Donna Rutherford has always written in a lyrical, earthy way on family, ageing and what it is to be human. Lullaby, which follows on from her previous works Kin and Broth focuses on an arguably more taboo subject- that of middle-aged women who are without children. As the film plays, Rutherford has cheekily provided jelly babies for the audience to munch. This sets the tone for all of the inherent contradictions of the piece- sweet, humorous, but with bite.
Using a selection of voices, while narrating her own experiences live, Rutherford examines the impact on women, who through choice or circumstance have found themselves without a family. Some remain anonymous; others appear on screen and talk frankly, wittily and movingly about this. The stigma is addressed- the fact that people see fit to inquire ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and ‘Why not?’ of women who haven’t become mothers, yet who do not approach men in this way. The equation of motherhood as being something synonymous with femininity, almost an obligation, is voiced. One woman speaks of a school reunion where she felt like an outsider, as everyone there was a parent except for her, ‘and all they did was talk about their children- I wanted to hear about them‘, she says, and her frustration is palpable. So many people’s identities are, after all, bound up in their children’s lives.
An elegiac, beautiful soundtrack by musician Inge Thomson accompanies the film- folk songs given a new rhythm like a heartbeat- fragile and tentative. Rutherford sings along with ‘Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird’, and discloses her own reasons for never having a baby. She simply states that ‘a darkness’ enclosed her whenever the subject came up, and that her friends always expressed surprise at her choice. She does not knock people who have kids, but laments how child-focused the western world has become, and the almost saintly nature of kids and motherhood within society. She refers back to historical texts from 17th and 18th century France, where children played less of a role in adult life, often raised by nannies- and, as the old maxim went, were’seen and not heard’.
Reproductive rights, capitalism and shifts in modern living, where the man may not necessarily be the breadwinner anymore, are contributing factors for a childless couple, or single woman. Even the semantics of not having kids is discussed: ‘Child-free sounds like a brand’, Rutherford quips. Ultimately, Lullaby is an even-handed yet powerful and brave paean to womanhood, feminism and choice. Rutherford hopes to bring the project back- after the huge success of this performance, it seems a given.
Seen at the GFT, January 16th. Images contributed courtesy of Donna Rutherford.
At Glasgow Womens Library on January 21st,1.30 pm, free.