views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Etcetera Theatre
22nd August 2016


Libby Luburd

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Many people claim not to take an interest in politics, however the second you mention benefits, suddenly everyone seems to have an opinion. Actress, playwright and single mum Libby Liburd has tapped into this Great British debate with her one-woman show Muvvahood, based on her own very personal experiences and those of other mothers she's interviewed in researching this piece. Whatever your views on the controversial benefits cap and single parents, Liburd's show is not only designed to get you thinking about the issues in a bit more depth, but it's a great piece of entertainment in its own right.

Opening the show, a pre-recorded video, filmed and edited by Liburd's son Neo, illustrates the facts surrounding single parents. One in four households today are single-parent families and those in single-parent families are twice as likely to be in poverty as those in couple-parent families. If the statistics sounds meaningless to you, Liburd later re-explains how much money benefits actually come to using a purse and some real, hard cash. She has a point to make and she does so using facts, figures and visual representations. Individuals absorb information better in many different ways and Liburd is determined to reach out to everyone. She's a woman on a mission.

Over the course of the hour, Liburd repeatedly pokes fun at celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and his infamous Turkey Twizzler campaign, again using some well-edited footage. With a great sense of timing and a natural gift for comedy, the performer uses Oliver's own dialogue against him, getting the audience to sympathise with an imperfect yet understandable attitude towards hot food. Brandishing a bag of carrots and a box of chips, her use of props effectively conveys the possibility of an imperfect but more sustainable middle ground. Although she's not flawless, she's an everywoman and so very relatable.

Muvvahood is a verbatim piece and at times we do feel slightly uncertain as to whether Liburd is telling her own story or someone else's, however her words never feel less than heartfelt and genuine. I suppose it doesn't really matter whose words she's conveying as long as we believe them, which we do. Stories of financial difficulties, including private rental eviction, are heartbreaking. Liburd initially focuses on statistics and cold facts, but in this later part of her performance she brings out the emotional side of raising a child with one income. Again, covering all the bases.

As well as the carrots, Liburd relies on a number of other props (to give more details would be to ruin a good punchline) and witty music choices with the overall finish of Muvvahood very polished. Whilst this production may initially have started life as a short scratch piece, it feels very well-developed and perfectly self-contained now. Director Julie Addy keeps the pacing at the right speed, with Liburd's delivery very engaging and no lulls to break our connection.

As a childfree businesswoman, it both surprises and humbles me how much one 60-minute show has challenged my own preconceptions of how the benefits reforms are affecting real people like Liburd. A lot of political theatre is angry, shouty stuff which fails to get its message across because it focuses solely on the ideology and ignores the importance of the entertainment value. Liburd is much smarter than that, knowing she can find a more sympathetic audience for her cause if she speaks in a way that makes us want to listen. Muvvahood is a sharp, humorous and clever piece of political theatre.

Muvvahood ran from 22nd to 23rd August at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe. It next runs from 27th to 29th October at Stratford Circus Arts Centre then from 3th to 5th November 2016 at Camden People's Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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