Shed 9, Rhubarb Lane Development, 90 Wellesley Street, Auckland

17/09/2010 - 17/09/2010

BATS Theatre, Wellington

21/02/2011 - 24/02/2011

NZ Fringe Festival 2011

Production Details

Motherlock is about challenging the traditional perceptions of modern motherhood. 

Based on the experiences of New Zealand playwright Melissa Fergusson, this semi-autobiographical drama follows a woman living in the United Kingdom and New Zealand over fourteen years through four pregnancies to different British men.

These experiences of trauma, intimacy and adversity are bravely rendered on stage in this one woman showcase by hot new talent Virginia Frankovich (Fitz Bunny, The Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre, The Vagina Monologues, Wellington Fringe Festival).

‘At each crucial age 21, 24, 26, and 33 the character of the mother reinvents her identity’ explains Fergusson, a disciplined and focused arts practitioner who has an extensive background in acting, directing and makeup artistry within theatre.

Motherlock is inspired by Fergusson’s three children and the importance of them knowing their paternities and the circumstances of their early lives. The play includes authentic letters written by the children’s Fathers to Fergusson injecting Motherlock with a raw sense of emotional weight.

Produced by Anya Varezhkina with script advice by Wellington-based script writer and playwright Donna Banicevich Gera, Motherlock makes its smashing debut at The Melbourne Fringe Festival 2010 from September 28-October 2 at The Australia Centre for Performing Arts.

Watch out for performances in Auckland and Wellington 2011.

New Zealand Preview
Venue: Shed 9, Rhubarb Lane Development, 90 Wellesley Street, Auckland
Date 17 September 2010,

Melbourne Fringe Festival 
Venue Australian Centre Of Performing Arts, Cabaret Voltaire
Dates 28 September-2 October 2010
Bookings available from 1 September 2010 

Original season 
Actress: Virginia Frankovich
Script Advisor: Donna Banicevich Gera
Publicist:  Kristina Hard
Costume Designer:  Claire Kingan Jones
Production Crew:  TBC  

BATS/ Fringe 2011 season: 
Narelle Ahrens

Amanda Turner
Beren Allen
Tim Williams

One-sided, undramatic and witless story not ready to be told

Review by John Smythe 22nd Feb 2011

When people tell stories it is usually for a purpose that constitutes some kind of gift for the listener. Without purpose or value, it’s just a narrative; a list of events: this happened then that happened then another thing happened … So what? And why?

Although the Bats programme says this first play by Melissa Fergusson, which she also directs, is “inspired by a friend speaking about her children’s fathers and the importance of them knowing their past,” the blurb for the original seasons in Melbourne and Auckland say it is a semi-autobiographical drama based of Fergusson’s own experiences. “Inspired by her three children, [it] follows a woman living in the United Kingdom and New Zealand over fourteen years through four pregnancies to different British men.”

So there is no way around it: this crit is going to get personal.

Narelle Ahrens, who is an excellent actress, works hard to give the unnamed woman life, tracking the full range of emotional states as she tells the story, changing into different clothes for a bit of variety, playing with a few props … But she is saddled with telling it in the past tense, which is never a good idea for a dramatic monologue, and although we get to know what she did, when and where, and get some sense of how she felt about it, there is very little insight as to why let alone whether she learned anything or gained any other value from the experience.

At the end she asks, “Do I wish my life was any different?” and answers, “No.”
“What about your children?” I want to shout. “Have you asked them if they wished your choices and lifestyle had been any different?”

She then asks us, “Are you true to yourself,” to which I want to respond, “Are you saying you are? How can you be when you don’t know yourself? Your lack of self-awareness and your inability to take personal responsibility for your actions and their effect on other is mind-boggling!” Is she really this vacuous or is it just poor play writing?

If she told her story in any other social situation, one-on-one or to a small group of listeners, we would undoubtedly ask probing questions like, “What sort of contraception were you using?” Given none of her four pregnancies were planned, and just one was terminated for genuinely medical reasons, we look for some sort of insight into the world view and value system that allows her to to do as she does, including leaving two children with the father of the second while she continues to shuttle between different jobs and accommodations in the UK and New Zealand.

But we don’t get to ask questions and despite Ahrens’ well-focussed performance the hour-long monologue of what she did and what she did next becomes confusing and tiresome, not least because no sense of character emerges from the parade of people she includes in the story. And of course they never get to have their say, about her or anything else. It’s one-sided and undramatic.

Just as a taste: she returns with her third child – conceived after picking up a “black man” at a bus stop then shagging him in his aunty’s housing estate flat then taking up with a Ghanaian barrister and having an affair with a Croatian on the side – and her mother is “supportive and non-judgemental” when she takes them in. Then when she – the woman – finds living with her mother “challenging” I want to smack her. And when she starts having “hellish thoughts” about doing terrible things to her son, I want to know she sought professional help.  

As it stands, Motherlock is a story told with no purpose and it therefore has no value. It also has no sense of humour. A warts-and-all story about a life that is told without wit in any sense of the word is not ready to be told.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Robbie Ellis February 23rd, 2011

James Wenley previews the Auckland season on his Theatrescenes blog:

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Bemoaning the outcomes of thoughtlessness

Review by Lillian Richards 18th Sep 2010

Motherlock is based around the assumption that you both can and cannot define a mother: her role, her behaviour and her basis in reality. Being a mother is both something that happens to you and something you choose; it is a reality, an unreality, a happening, a catastrophe; it is a natural occurrence.

This play is an attempt to follow the happenings of one woman throughout her life as partner, lover, and as two-time accidental and one time intentional ‘mother’.

Shed 9 as a venue is hard, cold, isolated and stark. It has none of the typical accoutrements of a theatre space and this works both for and against it.

In the ‘for’ category: the ability to set up a stage that is gritty and sparse, lit by floor lamps that speak of bedrooms and boardrooms, hotels and homes, a clever assemblage of the various sets this play requires without going overboard on literalism.

In the ‘against’ category would be the lack of acoustic support and buffeting. And here let me mention the storm. On the night in question the shed is racketed by a supernatural storm (which according to the NZ Herald is “the size of Australia”) that levels its might against the rickety corrugated iron of the warehouse roof.

Down the hall is a party blaring retro pop songs that push through the walls – “red, red wine…stay close to me, don’t let me be alone…”– and some audience members having to leave part way, exiting as they do through massive steel doors that, upon opening, sound a little like a prisoner taking leave to the yard.

For a less focused actor this would have been enough to destroy them but Virginia Frankovich, who performs this one-woman show, holds her sh*t together remarkably well; she never breaks from character, nor does she seem to even really consider the storm. A trance like state is developed from before the show even begins and Frankovich manages to weave her magic and take her audience along for the ride; she captures us against all man made and natural odds, for which congratulations are decidedly due.

The play itself is book-ended by a concept of circularity, the notion of definition and its spurious relevance to something as intangible as motherhood. From this dictionary beginning we are led into an autobiographical timeline of writer/director Melissa Fergusson’s childbearing years.

The writing is styled so that it comes off as part over-emotive poetry, part beat, like Kerouac in conversation with a high school student, and the work often states a lot of what is happening instead of demonstrating it. For instance, instead of Frankovich becoming saddened by an ex-husband’s new relationship, she simply says the word “sad”. Now this could just be me, but I sort of thought that theatre was the expression of content not the explanation of it.

At times I felt like I could have just closed my eyes and I would have got the gist of what was happening on stage perfectly well, which is clearly a little alarming when the whole point of theatre is the need, the desire, the propulsion, to keep ones eyes open.

The plot steadily reveals the inner workings of a woman who pursues her own life in, around and totally affected by the chaos of others; a woman who keeps making the same mistakes. There is a line in the play that asks if patterns are inherent, if their repetitive nature is unavoidable. That question is mis-asked: a pattern by its very nature is repeated, that’s what makes it a pattern. But behaviour repeated so as to create a pattern, now is that innate? I would say not for everybody; some people learn quicker than others what is and is not worth repeating.

At times the play lets us meet the men who father this woman’s disparate family, her repeated mistakes (and I really don’t mean that as a noun for the resulting children, who I’m sure are extraordinary and something Fergusson would never take back even if she could) and their dubious fastenings to a woman who is both unreal and unfastened herself; a woman who wants to be loved, obviously, but who somehow fails to meet the challenges and responsibilities of a modern sexualised woman.

I feel I can sum the whole thing up as this: an intelligent modern woman (with full access to prophylactics) acts thoughtlessly and bemoans the outcome.

Empathy is critical in the formula of a successful play, elegantly explained in this wonderful quote by Larry Sutin: “A good story should convince the reader (or the viewer) that you know and care a great deal about persons other than yourself.” Motherlock fails to really succeed at this because it is entirely focused on one woman and her actions, her basic emotions and her own disappointment in the life she has made for herself.

In particular, although this was presumably the entire premise, there is little mentioned about mothering at all; in fact I came away totally lacking any real understanding of this woman’s family, as though the definition of Mother for Fergusson doesn’t involve mothering. I feel like I understood her as ‘woman’ but the idea of her as ‘mother’ remains strictly medical: one, two, three birth scenes and serious pregnancy-related illnesses but not one thing about the love of the child, the devotion of a woman to a new life, the true majesty and perfection of a little person, vulnerable and complete.

Pondering the purpose of the full-length mirror that at one point is tilted back to refract the audience in a ghost type reflection that spins my head a bit. I become lost as to who this monologue is actually for.

It further proves the self-interest of this play that there is no obvious ‘listener’ for Frankovich to direct her spiel to. Why and to whom is she revealing all these intimate details about her life? Without a direct purpose, Motherlock (the name I presume derived as a pun on the sometimes locked-in nature of ‘mother’) feels like a diary reading, a blood letting, a private catharsis made public. 

I’m not a director and I don’t really enjoy it when a reviewer rewrites a play the way ‘they would have done it’ because really, that’s not the reviewer’s job. But having made that wee disclaimer I would offer, as constructive criticism, this thought: the play could benefit from more ‘story- telling’. By which I mean that, given this is a true story, a literal chronological retelling of what happened to one woman over a length of years, I feel that holding true to that genre would give the play more gravitas and it would suit Frankovich’s naturally powerful, clear and engaging delivery.

As it stands I felt that, overall, Motherlock comes off as more tabloidish (sic). The good thing about tabloids is that they are colourful, light hearted and all engaging for whole minutes at a time; they are pure entertainment. I would bill Motherlock as a sort of Sandra Bullock movie with a little bit of Diary Of A Call Girl mixed in, and I have to admit to really liking both those things in small doses at appropriate times. But they are not thought-provoking and they fail to challenge my view of the world or the decisions I make around how I want to be. For me that questioning is a prerequisite for all good art. 

So coming back to the notion of definition: what is a mother and are we supposed to leave the theatre pondering this? Well I’ll take it as read that we are but my definition of mother has remained intact, unaffected by Motherlock and one woman’s forays into diapers and un-harnessed sexuality. In a hypocritical self-indulgent moment of my own, I’d say that motherhood to me is complete love of the other without limitations or self-concern, not self-abandonment either but a growing, a ‘wisening’, a letting go. 
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.


Lillian Richards February 5th, 2011

Here's another reviewer's opinion, in the interest of a balanced perspective, from Motherlock's time in Melbourne. 

Amanda September 26th, 2010

I also went to the "Motherlock" preview and found it a cathartic experience. This review in my opinion fails to encapsulate the essence of what "Motherlock" has to offer. It lacks in areas of understanding such as the mirror as a prop, which is there to symbolise that "Motherlock" is a reminiscence of the actors life, and the audience are privy to subconsious and unconscious thoughts. I enjoyed the performance as it subtly encouraged me to review my own experience. It was refreshing to not have a performance dictate its themes to me, but enable moments of quiet synthesis. I did not find it a shallow Sandra Bullock type of affair and instead found "Motherlock" thematically layered. Perhaps it is a case of the more complex the person, the more they can relate, and the more they can get out of it.

The references to what a play must be are irreverent. If all plays fitted into a constructed mould of must haves, they would become mundane. Motherlock kept it raw, without overuse of cliches, and excessive stage props and for this, I highly recommend "Motherlock" to anyone who wants to experience something slightly different, that makes you think, without being obstrusive or in your face.

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