Part of the Pleasance Theatre’s Wrestival – a celebration of under-represented wrestlers, Mummy Vs is Heather Bandenburg’s autobiographical play-meets-wrestling show. It tells the story of her introduction to the art of wrestling, her battle with cancer and becoming a mother against all odds. This production aims to eradicate outdated views on what a parent should be and allow Bandenburg to reclaim her identity.
Walking into the venue, the audience are greeted with pop music on full blast, much like a wrestling arena. All there was to see was a ring on the stage that was covered in children’s toys and a play tent. As the show commenced, Bandenburg, performing as herself, emerged from said tent, foreshadowing the recurring theme of attempted humour throughout the production.
While introducing herself and the story she was aiming to portray, Bandenburg paced the stage, collecting the toys off the floor into a bag. This was a rather distracting choice: while it worked well as a visual aid to the hardships of parenting that she has faced, the action was repeated thrice, losing its effect and appeal significantly each time. To begin with, Heather’s line delivery also felt stilted and full of nerves, making it slightly difficult to follow what was being said, although her speech did become more natural over time.
After a fair amount of time spent in delivering this prelude of information about her induction into wrestling, her triumph in beating ovarian cancer (which was powerful and uplifting), and having children at the dawn of the national COVID lockdown, the audience were treated to some real wrestling. With a cast consisting of Bandenburg alongside four other extremely talented female wrestlers, we saw a range of battles between them. Wrestling is not for the faint of heart, and these women proved just that. Easily making up the most entertaining parts of the show, these fights were set to music, and brought all of the excitement, danger, and enthusiasm that wrestling has to offer.
The fights were used intermittently to represent the battles between working mothers and guilt, Instagram advice vs NHS advice on childcare, and Heather vs the outdated expectations of mothers. This injected a well-needed burst of excitement to the production and allowed the audience to feel more involved with the show.
While this performance clearly contained exciting and entertaining moments, with some humour sprinkled throughout, the plot itself felt lacklustre and under-explored. The subject of a mother who is a wrestler has the potential to be incredibly fascinating, but sadly Bandenburg chose to focus on the more common concerns of a mother’s portrayal generally, in society and on social media. Clearly this is a very prevalent issue; however if she had drawn on her experience as a wrestler she could have brought a new and interesting angle to it. Unfortunately this option was overlooked in favour of clichéd points. The production has the potential to delve into a niche, under-represented and deeply interesting group of wrestlers, but in its current form struggles to make any real comment on that.
Written and Produced by: Heather Bandenburg
Directed by: Rebecca Biscuit
Mummy Vs played at Pleasance Theatre until 24 September. It has further dates at Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester: October 7 – 8, and at Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich: October 11 – 12.