Wednesday, 20 August 2008

*** "motherland" @ underbelly

tuesday 19th august 2008

Edinburgh Festival: Motherland
@ underbelly

And another exceptional experience
Verbatim theatre made from interviews with mothers & partners from north east england of soldiers serving in iraq & afghanistan
Four actors play a dozen or more different women - sometimes falling into & out from each other, sometimes very focused, sometimes a solo voice, sometimes together as mother & daughter or friends so that we get depth as well as breadth. Performed with such truth & honesty that for the entire 1 hour 20 I never question or come out from feeling like I am listening to these women rather than the actors playing them.
Simply staged with a either canvas or plastic tarpaulin backcloth that held the projected names of the characters and as a closing film of soldiers morphing into a final image of a lace-curtained window looking out to a bit of tree. The women sit on shell boxes and the only other props are flowers that are snipped to fit a vase, framed photos of loved ones we never fully get to see, janice's file documenting her battle to find out the truth of her son's death, a mobile phone one of the women is using to text her just returned boyfriend, a microphone that is taken up twice by the women who have taken their grief into a public campaign.
The verbatim scripting give these stories the ring of truthful authenticity that this show accentuates and heightens rather than colours or distorts and the accumulative effect is of a group of smart articulate warm funny honest thinking and previously invisible and unheard women with a great deal of importance to say.
And emotionally it leaves me undone.

Special moments include:
+ the woman who holds the mike out to us in an eloquent undoing expression of helpfulnessless, voicelessness, powerlessness - and I know we are not intended to take it but at the same time I feel guilty & culpable for not reaching out to her;
+ all the stories of mothers finding out their child has been killed - one who has lost the daughter who had already had to bury two fiancés after road accidents and is now still locked in a bitter anger for all Iraqis, one a mother who persuaded the son who was killed 18 months after signing up to be a soldier rather than a footballer so as to have a longer career than 18months, and one who hears her son is dead from her daughter-in-law in a call to her mobile while she is alone on a bus, and who then learns that if she hadn't the phoned the base herself she would have had to find this out from the television because parents of married soldiers are not next of kin and currently are not included for a personal visit from service personnel.
Verbatim theatre at its absolute finest.

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