Cambridge, according to her children: Rowan Maudslay

Director of upcoming documentary Nourishing Mother Cambridge sat down with The Tab to discuss his authentic account of the weirdness of Cambridge


Last Wednesday, in between the final fleeting hours spent in the cutting room, Maudslay reflected with The Tab on his previous creative output in Cambridge, lessons learnt, and the process of creating his current project, Nourishing Mother Cambridge.

Pasts – Magpies Love Mirrors and lockdown

One of  Maudslay’s early projects, Magpies Love Mirrors, is a prime example of the organic nature of Cambridge creative output. When asked about how the web-series came about, an account of three Cambridge creatives in their final year of undergrad cropped up, with, eventually, a 10-person writers’ room enabling the project to “become a thing much bigger than us.”

Although operating within the constraints of a “shoestring budget,” Maudslay points out the relative ease in terms of production, as the project benefitted from some of the “best producers of Cambridge theatre.” In discussing favourite moments from the series, Maudslay and I agreed that a standout was the Carol Singer sketch, featured in Episode 1.

Image credits: Magpies Love Mirrors

The series boasted numerous absurdist nods, to such an extent that, as I noted, the series at points felt like a “hall of mirrors -” Maudslay was quick to note that this was “not by design,” though the “sketch comedy universe” the writing staff attempted to create certainly shines through.

Then came the lockdown – upcoming films were “killed,” and Maudslay is frank about the barriers he faced in order to “get back running,” almost to the extent that he “forgot how to do [filmmaking].” Yet there’s always light at the end of the tunnel – Nourishing Mother Cambridge, a project made possible by a 20-person-large production team, came along.

The now – genesis of Nourishing Mother Cambridge

Image credits: Nourishing Mother Cambridge

Walking down Hills Road toward the Botanical Gardens, you will likely come across the limestone Cambridge War Memorial. At its centre, an etching of a naked woman lactating, the sun in her left hand and goblet in her right, and below the engraving “ALMA MATER CANTABRIGIA,” or “Nourishing Mother Cambridge.” The same can be found on the archway exterior of the Haddon Library, the phrase “Alma Mater,” introduced by John Legate in 1600, now used globally.

Cambridge, as Maudslay outlines, is filled with the weird and wonderful, characteristic of a wide-ranging and surprising local history. One of the documentary’s primary aims, to “produce an ethnography of present-day Cambridge”, is cued precisely by Cambridge’s weirdness – why do we call the Trailer of Life “Van of Life,” or the Garret Hostel Bridge “Orgasm Bridge”? Maudslay is careful to distinguish between the blanket term of Cambridge’s “history,” something the documentary is certainly interested in examining, and its rapid process of “change.” 1,000 years ago, Cambridge was entirely composed of Fenland – in Christ’s College, a statue of Darwin sits on a bench, “watching as the world changes around him.”

Image credits: Nourishing Mother Cambridge

‘Nourishing Mother’: Strange as important

In discussing the importance of recognising Cambridge’s strangeness, Maudslay mentions a writers’ analogy – often we go on holiday to “find ourselves” or “experience the new.” What if, instead, we looked around more locally and overstepped the boundaries of Cambridge-brand romanticisation? One of the project’s express aims, as Maudslay outlines, is “denormalisation,” the hope being that in viewing the documentary, you realise that “the place you live in is really weird.”

Linked to this idea is one of the documentary’s objects of interest – what if instead of Cambridge’s linear narrative of history, “ships had landed here, and foreign invaders had ‘discovered Cambridge’?“. Part of the process of exploring this idea involved re-enactment and visual storytelling – Maudslay describes one particular trip to Woodwalton Fen “around 3:30 to 4:30 in the morning” in order to capture mist for the documentary’s opening sequence, set 1,000 years in the past. Another excursion involved a view into the Wake Hereward Project, looking to reanimate the life of Hereward the Wake, an Anglo-Saxon nobleman and Norman resistor based in Ely. Maudslay highlighted the work of Gabriel Johnson, Director of Photography, and said a key aim of the cinematography in “Nourishing Mother” was to enable viewers to “reflect on the thing they’re looking at.”

Image credits: Nourishing Mother Cambridge (Right: A hippo that “wallowed in the Cam 10,000 years ago”)

Closing credits: Why you should see “Nourishing Mother Cambridge”

Maudslay answers this question simply. Students should “connect to the history of the place in which they live” – it’s “an hour and 15 minutes of your time” which you won’t regret. The aim is that you’ll come away from the experience with an understanding that the “place you live in is really weird” – the how, when and why are laid out for you, and act as a springboard to look more, hear more and, above all, ask more.

Nourishing Mother Cambridge marks its one-night-only screening Tuesday 16th of May, 11 pm. Get your tickets here!

Feature image credits: Nourishing Mother Cambridge

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