The curious world of babies is one which seems to continually captivate the nation, particularly at the moment.
Channel 4’s successful TV show One Born Every Minute draws in viewers of 800,000 an episode and the gossip mags are obsessed with who’s trying for a baby, who’s pregnant and who’s faced the heartache of losing a child.
But the latest one-off performance from the spring programme of Leeds’s Howard Assembly Room takes a more considered view of this sphere of experience.
Life Cycle is a project which combines music, song and a video installation to offer a touching reflection on becoming a mother.
Rising star Mara Carlyle will perform a series of pieces written by Emily Hall and Toby Litt which have already been premiered at the Southbank Centre in London to glowing reviews.
Jo Nockels is projects manager at Opera North who has followed the creative process since its conception a year ago.
She says: “What’s interesting is that although it’s a very popular subject matter it isn’t something that’s explored much in music and song.
“And there’s still an air of mystery and even secrecy surrounding it, which is another good reason to take a look at the themes of motherhood.
“But what we were very clear about was that we didn’t want to just look at the themes in an entirely sentimental way. The songs are songs of love, of sadness, loss and they’re humorous too.”
The team behind the Howard Assembly Room enlisted Carlyle just as her career slips into the fast lane.
One of her songs has already been used in the Ikea “cats ad” and another was chosen by Channel 4 News anchorman Jon Snow as one of his select musical choices on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.
Her performance is set against a very simple backdrop, with just a few musicians and some select pieces of furniture onto which is projected various images.
The overall affect is intended to provide some insight into a field of life which, after all, is likely to be a part of most people’s lives, if not already part of it.
“Most people have, or have had parents,” says Nockels. “So the relationship between parents and child is one which is fundamental to us.
“It’s not just a maternal thing, these days many men are much more connected to the process, certainly than they used to be. They will either have had experiences which they can relate to, or will one day.”
Proving this to be particularly true is Toby Litt, who penned the words. He’s a man who writes about what he knows.
His novel, Ghost Story, was inspired by the loss he experienced when his girlfriend had three miscarriages. Since then he’s had two children, so is familiar with the dual joy and pain of parenthood.
“I think what the performance reflects the anxiety you feel as a parent, even if things go to plan,” he says. “There can be moments of great happiness and their can be moments of great sorrow but there’s always a mild uncertainty.
“That uncertainty gets exaggerated if things don’t go to plan, but it’s always there regardless. I didn’t intend to reflect my own joy and pain in Life Cycle. Though if I look back in 20 years time maybe I’ll see it differently and realise I did, I don’t know.”
Litt also hopes the piece will appeal to men as much as it inevitably will to women, he sees understanding this world as important.
“It’s not intended to be a kind of lecture though,” he says. “It was a writing born out of emotion not wanting to preach to men or anything like that, you know.
“Having said that I do think men are still only just starting to understand the thoughts and feelings that women go through when they’re pregnant.
“But I think men are getting better with the change of generations. It wasn’t so long ago men would be sitting outside in the corridor waiting for the nurse to come out and tell him whether it’s a boy or a girl, some even stay at home and kind of wait for the match report to come back to them!
“And that’s the only time a lot of men really face up to the experience, I’d hope that perhaps Life Cycle reminds people of what it’s like not only to be a parent, but also be another parent’s child.”
May 27, Howard Assembly Room, New Briggate, Leeds, 7.45pm, £10. Tel: 0113 243 9999. www.operanorth.co.uk/howard-assembly-room