A decision between career and kids, Raven grabs you where it hurts, twists until you bleed and then showers you with love afterwards. Stupendous work according to Maggie Kelly:

‘Rabenmutter’ is a peculiarly German concept.

Not really translating into any other languages, ‘raven mother’ is an insult hurled at women (always women) who have dared to try and continue in their career while looking after a couple of wee’uns at home.

Despite Merkel being at the top of the pile in Berlin, the family system engrained in German society is based around a home-creating and home-staying mother figure who basically has to act as a good Germanic virtuous anchor while ze Man heads off to plough fields and do fighting and other masculine things.

Or whatever masculine men do…

Image courtesy of Daniel Porsdorf

Raven’s battle against these outdated, patriarchal preconceptions is feathery and ferocious. It bitterly and lovingly outlines all the conflicts faced by women who have managed to create a career in the arts but who have decided to also have a family. It’s permeated by worries of suddenly being perceived as ‘old’, as ‘past your peak’.

Of being expected to give up who that you are and were and want to be, all for someone else.

Raven Assembly Roxy
Lena Ries, Romy Seibt & Anke van Engelshoven (image courtesy of Daniel Porsdorf)

Lena Ries, Anke van Engelshoven and Romy Seibt have two children apiece. They’re also trained, professional circus performers – acrobatics, aerial work, contortionists

These women know their stuff.

And while quasi-circus show Raven has some truly spectacular circus elements to it, it’s not glittering or spectacular itself. Or even elegant. A battered sofa is slumped in the middle of the stage, the site of many parenting battles. Dolls in various states of disrepair swarm over the performers, all balding plastic and empty joints. Folding washing becomes a game – Seibt dances around the stage, juggling faded laundry in a rare moment of complete joy and non-self awareness.

Raven Assembly Roxy
Image courtesy of Daniel Porsdorf

But the true wonder of Raven is how hard it bites home, how horrifically relatable it is. As a young woman working in the creative industries, you’re totally aware of how your value is calculated by both personal and professional contacts – on your sex-kitten-ness, on your dedication to your work, on being authoritative.

But God forbid, not bossy. Or needy. Don’t you dare show weakness, vulnerability, the humanity to rely on someone else once in a while.

Raven shows how motherhood reassigns this unasked-for value into boxes lined with emotional blackmail. It’s not an easy watch, and myself and the stranger next to me shed tears while sharing a glass of white wine.

Raven Assembly Roxy
Image courtesy of Daniel Porsdorf

It all looks a bit hopeless, really. But an hour in, their point made, the three performers sit on the sofa and play a video taken in an empty in-the-round theatre with scratched, red velvet seats. Onscreen we see the same battered sofa – the same aerial harness – swarming with six backflipping, cartwheeling, bouncing kids.

And it’s totally clear that, in an industry that forces one to decide between career or family, these three women have no regrets as to the avenue they’ve chosen.

★★★★★

Raven is now playing at Assembly Roxy until 26 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.