Motherland (2 stars)

This article is from 2008.


Narratives of soldiers’ mothers who bear the burden of war

Motherland is a piece of verbatim theatre, which gives voice to the testaments of women from the north east of England who had children serving in the armed forces in war zones. With the least amount of staging, the individual voices, which are studied at length by the cast of four excellent female performers, are given centre stage.

Not all the stories end in tragedy but a sense of loss and confusion is palpable throughout. Where the stories intersect, with a particular phrase or expression of emotion, the actors physically come together. But for the most part the differences are exposed; each has a disparate response to the forces, to war, to the effects on their family and to being a mother.

One of the first responses to this type of theatre is ‘why?’. Stating the situation, however eloquently, then neglecting to comment on it makes it unclear whom this process is for. Steadfastly refusing to choose sides, the piece becomes mere reportage. The lack of narrative arc and the ending of each story being a foregone conclusion allows for no journey. At least it’s a good starting point from which to take things further, and, with further development, could lead to some interesting results.

Underbelly, 0844 545 8252, until 24 Aug, 7.05pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9).


1. Matt B14 Aug 2008, 3:51pm Report

I think the problem with this review is that it reads as more a critique of verbatim theatre, rather than telling us if 'Motherland' succeeds in this genre. Suzanne clearly feels the 'verbatim' thing has to be flagged up right at the top, and then admits she has problems with it as a form ( 'Black Watch', 'Deep Cut' and 'What I heard about Iraq' all having you asking "why"??)
There is also a degree of naivety in inferring that if a piece refuses to take obvious sides it becomes reportage. All verbatim theatre uses mediated speech edited for dramatic effect, however simple the staging, and some audiences don't require the writer to tell them what to think about what they've heard!
I'm not sure how seriously I'd take a review about a DV8 show which began with the reviewer telling me why they dislike physical theatre, and the same applies here: Suzanne rather invalidates her critical opinion from the start by declaring her prejudice.
The key is - if you know you 'don't like that sort of thing' you're in no position to judge how successful it is at doing it - so ask someone else to cover it!
On balance, I'm going to go with Lynn Gardner's verdict in the Guardian...

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