Play looks at theatre of war through new eyes
A play focusing on the women left to grieve when war claims its victims has been a hit in Newcastle and Edinburgh. Now it is going nationwide. David Whetstone meets the cast and director.
WHAT must it be like to see the world on your doorstep going about its peaceable business, all chatting and laughing, when you have just been robbed of a loved one by a war being fought in all our names?
What must it be like to dread the TV news or a knock on the door, both potential deliverers of terrible tidings?
These questions, and plenty more like them, lie behind an extraordinary play called Motherland which began in Newcastle as a student production and is about to embark on a national theatre tour.
The play – more of a staged drama-documentary – is based on interviews with the relatives and girlfriends of serving soldiers and those who have been bereaved.
It gives voice to those who are all too aware that Britain is a nation at war (formerly in Iraq, now in Afghanistan)
At Live Theatre, director Steve Gilroy recalls the roots of a project which has captured the imagination beyond Tyneside – particularly after a clutch of awards at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the verdict of respected critic Lyn Gardner, who wrote of the “immense power” of “this honest, beautifully-produced little show”.
It began, Steve says, as a project for the postgraduate students of the Northumbria Live Academy, set up by Northumbria University and Live Theatre as a bridge between academic study and professional theatre work.
He had wanted to commission a writer to produce a piece suitable for the four young women left on the course after the sole male student dropped out. “But we didn’t have enough money, so I thought I’d go ahead and write something myself.
“I’d read a news story saying there is a disproportionate number of casualties among servicemen and women from this region in relation to the rest of the country and wondered why that was.
“I started to research the military background of the region.
“ Of course, there’s a garrison at Catterick. But it seems there are a whole lot of social and economic reasons why people from specific parts of the North East end up in the Forces.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a coincidence that so many of those who have lost their lives came from South Shields, for instance.
“I’d also seen a number of stories on the local TV where there’d be a report of a soldier being killed and then there’d be a mother talking about how proud she was, probably managed by the Ministry of Defence PR department.
“I thought there had to be more to this. What is life like for these women who are grieving for their sons and daughters when most people seem to be at best disinterested and at worst quite anti?”