Can you balance work and home life, and which should come first? That question is posed in a new play starring actress Katherine Parkinson, who says mothers have “a responsibility” to make the most of their skills.
It’s a familiar story in the acting world, as in all walks of life – a woman has children, pauses her career and then finds she’s been left behind.
“There are so many brilliant actresses in the generation above me where you go, ‘Oh they were great, what happened to them?'” says Parkinson, part rueful, part indignant.
“I know what happened to them – they just didn’t feel they ought to make that choice.”
While Parkinson, who has starred in TV’s IT Crowd and Humans, stresses she prioritises her two children, she sees no reason to sacrifice her career.
She was back at work six weeks after her second daughter was born, expressing milk on the Humans set.
“I had to go against my instincts,” she recalls. “I don’t like showing people my ankles and I had to express a bottle or three and just do it in the make-up chair and lose any dignity and any sexual allure that I might have had at 5am.
“You just do it and it’s amazing how people adjust. There are so many dads, particularly on crews, and mums who understand.”
She’s speaking while preparing to star in Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling, in which she plays a woman who gives up work to be a housewife and live in a fantasy of domestic bliss.
It opened at Theatr Clwyd in Mold, north Wales, this week and will move to the National Theatre in London at the end of July.
The plot may be about a woman who walks away from her job – but, behind the scenes, things have been designed to make it as easy as possible for the show’s cast and crew to juggle work and family.
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The standard industry rehearsal schedule was rejigged so time could be used more productively, Parkinson explains.
“We’ve done a shorter working day, which has meant I haven’t missed a single bedtime. And we’ve worked harder in the [rehearsal] room and had a slightly shorter lunch break and some people have told fewer anecdotes – which is only a good thing.
“It’s very interesting to see that it’s fine. It works. A balance can be struck, and it’s not going to be detrimental to the work.”
Any working pattern is ultimately down to the boss. In this case, Parkinson’s boss is director Tamara Harvey, who has been using the Twitter hashtag #workingmum to document her own (often fraught) attempts to give her all to both work and kids.
Among other things, she’s detailed sleeplessness, motherly guilt and three-month-olds pooing loudly in big important meetings.