Raven review – roll up, roll up to the circus of modern parenting

A disclaimer: to make it to this circus-theatre show about the challenges and compromises of being a working mother, I ran down the street to the station having hustled my two-year-old through dinner, bathtime and a relay-style parental handover. So when I sat down in my seat, slightly perspiring, I was very much in the right zone.

Between them, the Berlin circus trio Still Hungry have six children and decades of performing experience, and the imperfect juggling of those two sides of their lives is what they’re wrestling with on stage. Lena Ries, Romy Seibt and Anke van Engelshoven mix aerial acrobatics and contortion with candid monologue (confessional live art queen Bryony Kimmings was a consultant on the show), plus comic scenes of the prosaic but horrifying truths of parenthood: zombified sleeplessness, endless laundry, competitive mothering and constant judgment.

Rabenmutter (“raven mother”) is a German term for a neglectful mother, or just one who leaves her children in order to work. The women in this show have heard the insult and both defend and second-guess themselves. Maybe their vocation is too risky? Maybe they are away on tour for too long? Maybe they are getting too old for all this? The last one seems unlikely: they certainly still have the skills – Seibt adeptly climbing a rope balancing a baby (doll) on her foot – and they use them to build layers on top of their text. But too few images really stick. One scene that works is when Van Engelshoven dares to talk about what she misses from her pre-kids life (freedom, irresponsibility, loud music, lost weekends), rises to the roof on aerial straps to a thumping bass, and spins herself into oblivion.

Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Despite the women’s unusual skillset, Raven is utterly relatable, especially since the cast don’t really have the answers. It’s timely, important and entertaining subject matter, but as theatre it could go deeper, darker, be even funnier and more badass. Both parenting and circus are full of extremes. With more of these on stage, Still Hungry could push this clever and likeable show into something stellar.

At Jacksons Lane, London, until 23 January.

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