Most of us will remember 2016 as a year of unbelievable political results, for better or for worse, depending on your views. I woke up to the news of the Brexit referendum result in a muddy tent at Glastonbury Festival – as you can imagine, quite the location to hear such news. I can’t recall the exact moment that I heard Trump was elected as President of the United States, but the characters of Milk and Gall will never forget. And it’s in the first year of his Presidency that Mathilde Dratwa’s Milk and Gall is set against.
New Yorker Vera (MyAnna Buring) is giving birth just as the election results come in and her first year of motherhood plays out against a backdrop of fury and political turmoil. Dratwa’s writing is a startingly raw and honest look at the intimate early days of motherhood, alongside the global political anger. It makes for some incredible surrealism at times. At one moment Vera’s mother-in-law (Jenny Galloway) is cooing at the baby, saying how much she wants to eat him, before she literally starts taking bites. Later, in a tense argument, Vera’s best friend Amira (Sherine Chalhie) tells her that her baby looks just like Donald Trump. Snorts of laughter and shock reverberated around Theatre 503 at what happens next.
Clocking in at 1 hour 45 minutes, without interval, it makes for a long time to remain focused. But thankfully it is utterly engrossing, the pacing keeping the audience engaged throughout. Much of this can be put down to Dratwa’s impeccable writing, but the excellent cast contribute to this success. Tracy-Anne Green switches from a nurse with an impossibly large epidural needle to a human version of the voice service Alexa, appearing in front of a distraught Vera, while Galloway’s version of Hilary Clinton climbing out of the TV won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
For a relatively small theatre, the special effects and soundscapes are fantastic. Not only do they provide moments of humour, such as when Vera’s partner, Michael’s (Matt Whitchurch) trousers are whipped off, but they help in creating real shock and horror, adding to the constant sense of unease throughout.
I had a complicated reaction to this show. It had me gripped throughout and at many times I burst out laughing. But on the bus home I found myself overwhelmed by emotions as the themes of the play swirled around in my head. The depiction of motherhood is heart-breaking to watch, and with many friends who have become mothers in the last year it had me pondering how much of their own experiences they had kept hidden. It also had me questioning the world around us and whether we should be bringing children into it, just as Vera questions whether she should have brought a child into Trump’s America.
The final moments of the show bring the action into more recent history; the image of Vera pulling a face covering over her mouth stayed with me for hours after the house lights went back on. Maybe 2016 wasn’t so bad after all.
Written by: Mathilde Dratwa
Directed by: Lisa Spirling
Produced by: Ceri Lothian
Milk and Gall plays at Theatre503 until 27 November. Further information and bookings via the below link.