The director clears her throat before addressing the cast: "OK, can we go from the magic out-of-my-fanny-conjuring bit...?" Anyone who chanced upon afternoon rehearsals in a room above a Lambeth pub this week, might have wondered what they'd stumbled into. This was not, however, practice for a Bangkok strip show but the finishing touches to a masterful new musical exploring the pressures, anxieties and downright absurdities of modern motherhood.
The Good Enough Mums Club tells the stories of five women from various walks of life who meet at a mother and toddler group. "As happens when you join one of these groups, they're thrown together with people they essentially have nothing in common with other than the fact that they all have small children," explains Helen Eastman, director of the show, who is eight weeks away from giving birth to her second child. But soon their stories are inextricable from one another, with the show following these five women as they change and grow and deal with their own situations, which range from post-natal depression to struggling with an ill child.
At the centre of it all, adds Eastman, "It is a journey of solidarity: it's about how you those friendships with people you think you don't have anything in common become your support structures."
Heartwarming, funny and deeply honest in a way that no mother could fail to appreciate, The Good Enough Mums Club captures the frustration, isolation and occasional joy of early motherhood in a frank and totally relatable story featuring the relentless humble-bragger friend, fruitless visits to the GP in search of sleeping pills, and the prepare-to-spit-out-your-raspberry-leaf-tea musical number "Mucus Plug", with the lyrics "Mucus nights – don't Google it. Oh great and now I think I've shat a bit."
It might also be the first ever play to intentionally recruit a cast made up entirely of mothers. As a result, Eastman says, "productivity is extreme". "Mums are the most unbelievably reliable and efficient people because they are juggling so many things that their eye is always on the ball."
It was partly funded by the Knee High Project, a programme created by the Design Council and Guy's and St Thomas' Charity to help improve child and parent healthcare in south London boroughs. With much of the show's content generated through an ongoing series of local workshops where women are asked to add their own experiences to the plot, it will resonate with mums across the land. But it is also a very personal piece for its creator Emily Beecher, who worked alongside co-writer Sally Samad and co-producer Sarah Shead. "I had terrible postnatal depression and psychosis," explains Beecher, whose daughter Maisie is now four years old. "In the beginning I felt amazing. I was like 'this is what I was put on earth to do, she's amazing, I'm amazing'." But between three and five months after giving birth, Beecher, 39, developed postnatal depression, which wasn't diagnosed until 10 months postpartum.
Then postnatal psychosis kicked in. "I remember we were away on holiday and I kept hearing a baby crying. I got really cross with my friends and my husband, I was like 'the girls are crying' and they were like 'the girls are right here'. I thought it must be a baby outside and I was really wrought, thinking 'who lets their baby cry like that?' And it would happen every time I tried to go to sleep."
"Everyone said 'you're just really tired'... In the end I walked into change Maisie – there are lines about this in the show – I literally walked in and I looked up and there was this huge puddle of blood on the ceiling, and the walls." Finally, after confiding in her husband, Johnny, about her hallucinations, Beecher was treated as outpatient at a psychiatric unit where her therapist suggested writing as a way to work through her feelings. "She said, 'Why don't you write, even if you just do five minutes or type into your phone while you're in the loo?'"
So Beecher did, and three months later following "a lightbulb moment", Good Enough Mums Club was conceived. "I'd had a really shit day and I came into therapy in floods of tears and I said, 'Today I've decided I'm not ever going to be a great mum. I'm never going to be that great mum that you see with her kids. And I can't do it and it's not me. I'm just going to have to settle for being good enough.'" Her therapist's response, says Beecher, an actress-turned producer-turned-writer, was a revelation.
"She said, 'Do you know what? Perfectionism is as damaging as neglect. I see more patients in my practice who are children of parents who are perfectionists than I do of children whose parents just muddled along and made mistakes,' and it just really struck me."
From then on, once she started talking about her experience, Beecher found that others started to confide their own imperfections in her – and so The Good Enough Mums Club was born.
When the show opens next week, every performance – scheduled so that mums can feasibly catch a matinée between lunch and afternoon school pick-ups – will be a bit different, evolving with the experience of its audience members. "Women fill in a questionnaire on their way in," Eastman explains. "During the show we'll use those confessionals, anonymously. At the end of each performance the audience makes a pledge based on suggestions made by supporters on Facebook, like 'I will never glare at other women because they've got the buggy spot on the bus, or I will never look in despair when someone sits down next to me with a baby on a plane'. It's about inclusivity, solidarity but most of all its about fun." µ
'The Good Enough Mums Club', the Bedford, London SW12 (thegoodenoughmumsclub.com) 10 & 11 July; the Three Stags, London SE1, 16 to 20 July