Mother's Ruin

Mag North catches up with the cabaret queen of Tyneside at her one-woman show in Newcastle
November 27, 2022

Jenni Winter was our lockdown queen, the golden star of the pandemic. Composer, pianist, singer, music teacher as well, Jenni brought more than a mere ray of sunshine and starlight into our homes every Sunday night, from the front room of her house in suburban Newcastle.

Jenni’s live Facebook cabaret sessions became the highlight of each dismal week for an increasing group of fans. As she took to the keyboard of her piano at 9pm on a Sunday night, always sparkling, always glamorous, we were transported from Fenham to fantasyland.

For an hour she would sing and play the best numbers from our favourite shows, and some slightly more esoteric songs from lesser-known musicals, too. Introduced by “Maurice”, the household impresario with a cod-French accent (actually her partner Phil Earswell) Jenni gave us joy and escapism with the best of theatricality.

Jenni Winter

And so it was wonderful, at last, to catch a live performance by this musical dynamo, at Newcastle’s Prohibition Cabaret Bar. Jenni’s one-woman show, Mother’s Ruin, premiered this summer at London’s Park Theatre, a cabaret-style reflection of women’s relationships with their mothers. It’s since been produced since at Northern Stage, opening their Stage Three autumn season, and at the Alphabetti Theatre and the Laurels Theatre. But the Prohibition Bar is true home territory, where Jenni has sung and played many times, and where she has a dedicated following in the real world.

For an hour Jenni sings, plays, and chats with the audience about her mum and about their mothers, a funny, heart-warming, exploration of modern day motherhood, full of tips on how to fail miserably at meeting everybody’s expectations. She says she found out the hard way what it was like to go from having a Mum to being one, from blissfully blaming one’s own mother for almost everything, to painfully realising maybe it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked.

“If it was time for Jackanory it was time for a drink,” quips Jenni, describing the “Judgmental Years”. Her mum, who died three years ago, was deeply loved and is greatly missed. She comes across as a fascinating woman, who was prepared to chain herself to the railings at Greenham Common for her principles, while Jenni – at the time – longed for “normal parents”. Jenni herself has actually raised two fabulous daughters, Tabitha and Martha, who are delightful and completely well-balanced.

The songs are fast and funny, especially The Mums Who Have It All, and the big chorus number which highlights Jenni’s musical theatre roots, Mother’s Ruin, You Won’t Ruin Me. The audience participation proved a problem, though, when we were asked to write down what we blamed our own mothers for. My mum was practically a saint, and I take full responsibility for all my own failings, faults and foibles. Though she did introduce me to the finer points of whisky (rather than Mother’s Ruin gin) for which my thanks, rather than blame.

Live At The Prohibition

There was redemption, of course, as we were asked at the end to shred all the sheets of paper bearing our accusations, and thrown them like confetti into the crowd. Jenni’s hoping to take the show on tour to a wider UK audience over the next couple of years. “Originally the piece was composed and created while I was on the North Supported Artist scheme at Northern Stage. I was supported by Arts Council Funding, and when the Park Theatre in London commissioned two nights of performances, Northern Stage gave me some funding towards getting the show to London. And finally to the Prohibition Cabaret Bar.”

In yet another part of her life, Jenni also runs Calico Cats, set up “to provide joy after lockdown”. During the pandemic, the Calico Cats entertained hundreds of children with high quality online drama and music games, all with a pay-what-you-feel option, “making them accessible to as many children as we could reach.  Since lockdown has ended (phew!) we are thrilled and energised to be  back in the real world playing drums, creating characters and stories, and dancing.”

You can find Jenni on Twitter