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Motherland (Tour - Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Motherland is based on interviews with women whose lives have been affected by the involvement of family, friends or lovers in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Refreshingly, however, the play is not restricted to this single theme but examines also generational issues and the courage needed to cope with daily problems. As a result the characters do not come across just as victims but instead demonstrate the resilience of humanity.

A skilled cast of four (Rachel Adamson, Charlie Binns, Eleanor Clarke and Helen Embleton) share sixteen roles, ranging from Geordie lasses on the pull to bereaved parents.Typical of the ambitious attitude of the play is the character of Isabel, a cancer survivor, who tells of her life under a dominant mother and with a husband disabled in an industrial injury. The fact that her two sons are in the army is only part of her story but does contribute to her belief that each Christmas must be enjoyed as if it is the last.

The raw nature of the material is brought out by the naturalistic performances. Speeches convincingly over-lap, a mother and daughter come close to squabbling and two friends finish each others’ sentences so often have they told their tale.

Imaginative direction by writer Steve Gilroy ensures that the fragmented nature of the play does not form a barrier to concentration or appreciation. He secures cohesion by making connections between the pieces that are surprising and dramatically satisfying. Two separate monologues turn out to concern the same group of people – but only one has a happy ending.

Motherland has the power to both move and shock .It is hard not to become angry when hearing of families who find out of their loss by way of the TV news rather than by official notification. There is skin-crawling horror in the mother who finds her son’s injuries were so severe that his body had to be pieced back together. The effect on the daily lives of the women is illustrated by a speech that ends in a shocking outburst of hate.

Verbatim plays have been some of the best theatre in recent years but can become veer towards depressing, as they are relentless and preachy. Motherland avoids these problem and, although a powerful production, helps the audience to retain a degree of hope.

-Dave Cunningham


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