“When I die I want to be able to say this, ‘I never did anything violent’”
Paired with Around the World in 80 Days as part of the free theatre season at The Scoop at More London, Brecht’s The Mother is a little performed play from 1932 telling of a woman living in a Russia on the cusp of revolution who is forced into a new world of political activism when she sees how her own activist son is treated by the authorities. As she meets with his friends and begins to engage with their agenda, she finds herself on a journey of personal growth, as she finally learns to read and as her political consciousness is awakened and becomes impassioned, she becomes a figurehead for the movement that her son is part of.
Though it is a story that is ultimately advocating Communism, the decision to keep the setting fairly loose and not tethered too tightly to its original time and location frees it up hugely and consequently scores a huge resonance in its examination of the issues around political dissidence and the right to demonstrate in public, particularly for young people. Ravenhill’s translation has a punchy directness and humanity that gives the political discussion a very relatable dimension through the figure of ‘The Mother’, played with tireless grace by Nicky Goldie, her concern for her son accompanied by a growing outrage at how she perceives society to be rotten and pushes for change.
Brecht’s songs are also given new life with something of a rock music makeover by Theo Holloway and Richard Norris, Norris appearing onstage as The Singer with his electric guitar but everyone joining in with the songs of communal protest and collective anger. Alistair Hoyle has a quiet fury as Pavel, the son who provokes such maternal love and there’s a nice part for Season Director Willmott as the linen-suited teacher Nikolai Vessovchikov (he alternates the role with Ravenhill).
Whereas Around the World in 80 Days has the clear entertainment factor, The Mother is actually the best example of just how exciting a project this is part of. Excavating a piece of obscure Brecht would be a challenge for any theatre, but doing so and finding such relevance in it to make the production speak loudly to a modern audience and keep them engaged – a non-paying audience could easily walk – is no mean feat at all.