For several years Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood have been core members of the feminist cabaret team Lady Sings it Better, reinterpreting and subverting songs made famous by men, and putting their own womanly spin on things.
But Mother’s Ruin sees the pair break out on their own in a brilliantly written and performed show all about gin. A drink mightn’t seem like the best subject for a cabaret, but gin has a more colourful and chequered past than most alcoholic beverages.
Marsden and Wood cover everything from the mysterious beginnings of gin (via rap), to the origins of navy or gunpowder strength-gin, to the beautiful love story: when gin met tonic.
The show is part history lesson, but told in a fast, musical, and blisteringly entertaining fashion. They step into different characters (even if the accents are a little bit too difficult and they choose not to attempt them), and even celebrate the very art of cabaret with a malaria-ridden rendition of Fever. It’s almost as though the excellent children’s show Horrible Histories was made for grown-ups and laced with booze.
Obviously Marsden and Wood have learnt how to put together a setlist and hold a cabaret audience in the palm of their hands from their work with Lady Sings it Better, but Mother’s Ruin is a significantly more ambitious show.
And the musical standards are high: with their tight harmonies, Marsden and Wood’s voices blend into a single, warm and bright sound. Musical director and pianist Jeremy Brennan provides superb support, both musically and dramatically, and even gets his own moment in the spotlight with a riotous singalong of Piano Man.
Like Lady Sings it Better, Mother’s Ruin has got its share of feminist commentary; there are few drinks that have become more gendered than gin, and any journey through history is bound to throw up some outrageous patriarchal nonsense. There are a few poignant moments, including Marsden’s passionate rendition of Martha Wainwright’s Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole and a duet on Pink and Steven Tyler’s Misery.
Through their explicitly feminist perspectives, Marsden and Wood have found plenty of humour and a generously engaging piece of theatre. Not everybody falls in love with gin, but I can’t imagine too many audience members could resist the charms of Mother’s Ruin.