Mother Country

Mother Country


The Terrace, State Library of Queensland

13th – 18th May

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

Sunday night kicked off with the excitement of a new play ahead. Then it crashed and burned when I realised how cold it was! Suddenly the cotton black jacket over my dress that was more an accessory if anything, seemed useless on my shivering shoulders. I could only imagine the thick woolly jacket I had contemplated wearing, strewn on the floor laughing at me. But I had to press on. The gang from heartBeast was back with another make-you-hang-off-your-seat production. The build up for this play had been tempting me since April. No amount of chilly breeze and cold winter night could stop me. This time the object of attraction was a performance pulling the curtain on a period of Australian history we’re not so fond of.

Mother Country is not by any means your typical, rustic period drama of good ol’ aussie struggle. This time Michael Beh from heartBeast has teamed up with Jacqueline McCarthy-Kerr to bring us dark fables of a history we’ll never truly understand.

Four women, four stories, the hiss of trees in the wind; this is what I walked into when the doors opened. Out on the white tiles of The Terrace a man bundled up in a Victorian era officer’s coat ordered us into the centre. The nip of the wind adds something to the chill of his angry command. There’s not much else to do but obey the officer’s orders and watch a scene unfold within the crowd of the theatregoers. Women flung to the cold, hard tiles for stealing linen and lace. I almost stepped forward to ask if the first girl was okay, it looked like she had been thrown that harshly. Others were dragged screaming and howling. The best thing to do was cover my mouth before I blurted something out.

Again we were ordered by the officer to move our chairs and be quiet. After watching the women realise they had been condemned, I poised myself ready for a delicate tower of narrative to topple into a pile of devastation, also known as a cutthroat twist ending.

This doesn’t come however. In fact, I won’t spoil the show but these dark fables come out with some fair resolutions. Considering these stories are based on the true suffering of our ancestors I suppose it only right their terror relents for them. I should want that, right? A happy ending perhaps? I should want to wish mercy upon them. Yet somehow, somewhere in my mind, I still want something shocking to leave me miserable. I’m too selfish; I only want happy endings for my own affairs.

Regardless there are some moments that satisfy my desire for disaster. Cringe-worthy moments bound by genius staging and movement. The woman becoming the bow or for a more accurate description, carved mermaid of the boat, made me sit up and pay attention.

The most haunting of all moments though, definitely comes down to the dance. These beautiful women sing as a harmonic chorus and move as broken puppets might. Repeatedly being bent and battered by the disgusting, dogmatic men played by Ian Bielenberg and Jacob Paint.

Jacob Paint especially, dominated the outdoor terrace on the night. Right from the moment of the doors opening he barked at us to move, step or sit. He let go of any reservations a modern man of our century might have and flung women to the ground like potato sacks. Pulling and yanking them into whatever position he desired then finally spitting commands in their faces before moving again. Suddenly, as if one of the off-stage crew flicked a switch he became a tender, confused man. He transformed into a kindly butcher looking for someone to start a family in a way that was acceptable of those times.

Though I can’t go on without mentioning the lovely ladies of Mother Country. Each one of them spoke out with eerie passiveness whether in unison or speaking alone. Their faces fell apart under every sad hymn that left their lips. Then there is the queen of this troupe, Director Jacqueline McCarthy-Kerr. It takes a certain intuition to carry a play that doesn’t dominate in plot but thrives on symbolism and story telling. Each movement, whether it’s a graceful glide under dyed silk or the oppressed flails under a man’s grip, draws energy from the audience.

Mother Country is part of a cartel of plays being held anywhere in Brisbane. The Anywhere Festival is celebrating theatre that takes place everywhere but your typical theatre. Its running from the 10th to the 19th of May and Mother Country is one of the many performances to be involved. Book online for the final performances of Mother Country (Tuesday 15th – Friday 18th May).

There is one thing that sets Mother Country apart from the rest though. Where as many of Anywhere Festival’s plays are trying to hurtle themselves into the future of theatre, Mother Country is stubborn. It’s adamant on drawing from the past. Avoiding all technology where possible, this play, unlike its brothers and sisters, hurtles the audience to something historic. I even feel somewhat guilty typing this on a laptop now. But that’s okay! That is what I think Mother Country is trying to do. Make us stop and realise there are tales forgotten from long ago. Dark, sad but ultimately uplifting stories of women – our women – that above all things, need to be told.

For some fantastic production shots by Gerry Nicholls, check out the Anywhere Theatre Festival Facebook page.

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