Ovalhouse, London – until 10 March 2017
I am never quite sure what to expect when a show starts with the performer genuinely chatting with the audience. In a space as intimate as Ovalhouse’s upstairs theatre the chattiness made the whole thing feel all the more personal. Danyah Miller’s biographical tale starts slow and the audience participation around what constitutes perfect (and conversely imperfect), is a great hook in. However, when the storytelling begins it is spellbinding.
There is something rather Jackanory about it, and the sparse set allows you to concentrate on the story without many visual distractions. How Danyah flows with ease from narrator to different characters is truly a joy to watch and listen to. This is all aided by some clever set design, which is simple but enhances the storytelling.
The story at the heart of the show, at first seems quite simple but as she unpacks (sometimes quite literally), the varying aspects of it, the intricate and complex nature of the subject matter becomes apparent.
The theme “the often complex relationship between mothers and daughters and the challenge of discovering you may have more in common with your female ancestors than you care to admit,” through the lens of perfection, though familiar, does not succumb to clichés, nor does it ever feel stale. Danyah conjures stories within her story of ﬁve generations of women in her family’s Queendoms. All are as intimate as the space in which it is set. They are emotive, yet not saccharine or jarring.
The familiarity of the stories are their strength. The archetypes are instantly recognisable and it is simultaneously her story, my story and our story, while still being uniquely their story. At its heart it feels like her mothers’ herstory is all of ours, and her journey to resolution, our journey.
The end, when it came was like the story, familiar, expected and for me, no great revelation. But this is definitely a case of the path taken to arrive at the end. Danyah took us on this journey by baring a shared but largely unspoken understanding of the collective herstories of our mothers and their mothers and their mothers. It was poignant, sad, funny, loving and uplifting in the short time and intimate space which Danyah explored it with us; while acknowledging real life understanding and ownership of the next part of the story could take a lifetime.