‘THE work tells the story of a specific year that actually happened and what happened, and it effectively takes from a birth to a first birthday party,” says Natasha Gilmore, founder and artistic director of Barrowland Ballet.

Last night, in Glasgow’s Tramway theatre, Jude Williams and her co-conspirator Gilmore presented Chunky Jewellery – over Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day weekend.

It features two friends, one year, two births, a death, 18 bursts of laughter, 34,000 tears (each) and one piece of chunky jewellery in a raw, open-hearted and brutally honest piece of theatre of words, dance and song to offer audiences an alternative love story.

It’s a personal and poignant autobiographical piece that celebrates friendship, motherhood and womanhood. All of which, during a giggly and in-depth chat, they explored  for me.

Gilmore explained first: “We are women for whom the fairytales didn’t work out and found the chance to really celebrate friendship in a way that isn’t always held in such a high status.”

Williams agreed – they often add to rather than finish each other’s sentences showing a deep affection and coherence of understanding.  “We joked for a while to find a happy ending, but this is not a neat ending, and, in the end, we just carry on.”  Gilmore confirmed: “Yeah life just carried on.”

The piece covers a challenging year, as Williams explained: “I had an aching collision of death and birth as my mother’s funeral was on a Wednesday and my daughter’s 20-week scan was on the Thursday. A filmically stunning moment of poetry in terms of departure  and arrival.”

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The production covers life caught between two directions, Gilmore continued. “We were dealing with death, caring upwards towards parents whilst caring for children.

“There was something in that stretch that became interesting. Being in the centre of arrival and departure was like being middle-aged. Effectively that is what it was. It was at the junction of everything, in the chunkiness of life.”

The only conscious choice, as Gilmore illuminated, was it was going to be their story. “We searched for the story. Do we attach our story to Cinderella or what, but it doesn’t fit. There wasn’t a story that existed, the story of friendship between middle-aged women.”

Apparently, it is not “glamorous” but the story is seductive. It’s not been easy, as Gilmore explained.  “If you have kids, make that choice you don’t have a huge amount of time to do anything with those stories.”

Now there is time, and an elongated process “partly informed by Covid but also by necessity which has allowed a different depth of time with our stories because they are autobiographical”.  “It has been useful to get some distance  on them,” she adds.

For Williams, it is particularly  poignant: “It’s a lot to re-do a scene of speaking at your mum’s funeral. Having a more spacious process has allowed me to take better care of myself.”

This is important because they do not “need another seven years of therapy to make our next piece of work.”

Williams continued: “The time we have had has allowed it to be what it needs to be and not impose upon it – it is messy.”  Within that collaborative, the pair are very keen to stress the importance of the other creatives.  “Having [director] Ben [Duke] on board has been amazing because it has the potential to be a therapeutic work,” they said.

Instead, they have a work with “universality that has opened up within it”, thanks to the team of lighting designer Elle Taylor, composer Davey Anderson, set designer Shizuka Hariu and associate director Vicki Manderson.

And the title? Williams began: “It came from a gift that Natasha was given as a birthday present.”

Gilmore tied it in beautifully. “It did start as a joke because I was asking what is it when you get older that you have to start wearing chunkier jewellery. Women relate to that.

“Because the chunkiness of life – not just the responsibilities but carrying the kids, the career, the finances of the home as single parents – there is a particular weight to the juggle of it.”  But it does more than just “the serious”, Gilmore pointed out – it embraces comedy too. She added: “Laughter is at the heart of our friendship. We do go to places that are very honest, and sore. We use humour to keep the buoyancy of the work alive”.

Where this sits in the now is really  important.

“The pressure on the tiny unit that is now considered family is too much weight on any one family. We need each other. I hope (this work) speaks to that broader sense of the way we intertwine.“ Gilmore added. “Our generation have worked out this idea of chosen family to support biological family.

“This is more than friendship, much more aligned to family and to marriage in a sense.”

Williams went further: “[It’s] a development from the queer community.”

She said cautiously that there is “a narrative of shame in being a single parent – even now – and again this is explored in the work”.  Williams added: “There is something essential about being a single mother and you have to study the world in a different way – in a way that was revealed in Covid – being under one roof, the cracks show.”

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But it is as artists that Williams concludes: “The vulnerability of putting our stories into a space? It amuses me that I shall be 47 as I ask myself, ‘am I in a contemporary dance piece?’”

Gilmore went deeper: “As mature performers, there is so much you bring to a piece. We do feel optimistic that there is something about the generosity of sharing that is so intimate to us that will make the personal universal and find the common ground for others in the audience to feel seen and feel heard.

“It’s about being honest but not feeling utterly exposed. So, let’s see …”