Three Mothers, Waterloo East Theatre – Review

The winner of IOM Arts Council Prize 2017 and numerous other distinctions, Matilda Velevitch’s Three Mothers returns – this time at Waterloo East Theatre. Interweaving three monologues that take place in different countries and years, there is a thread that unites the respective experiences – not unlike The Hours or Fluff Productions’ World Enough And Time.

Directed by Janys Chambers, Three Mothers takes place at the close of the Second World War, September 2015 in Germany, and Senegal shortly before and after this. The play opens with Khady (Clare Perkins) a relatively young mother whose husband has recently died. We’re informed that there are only three ways to earn a living in her town – goats, running a market stall or Western Union-style money transfer shops. With three children to raise on her own, her pragmatic thinking leads her to sell her husband’s goats so she has funds to buy material for a fabric stall. As she has one daughter who is perennially ill and another not of school age yet, that only leaves Khady’s 16 -year old son to make the perilous trip to Europe to earn money for the family…

Khady (Clare Perkins) and Gisella (Roberta Kerr) / Photos © Rachel Lum

While her circumstances are very different, Gisela (Roberta Kerr) shares some experiences with Khady. As her husband has also died, Gisela find herself in a quandry. A German national by birth, she has lived in Britain since the age of 26 with her husband in Oxfordshire. But without any children or relatives in Britain, the first things she is asked is “Are you going home?” While this pre-dates the Brexit fallout of 2016 to the present, the insinuation that without a British spouse or relative one doesn’t belong sums up the national ambivalence to ‘strangers’, even if people have been living in Britain for 50-odd years. Back ‘home’ in Bavaria, Gisela fits right in, a place that has remained unchanged since she was a girl. However, news of the death of Alan Kurdi – the three-year-old refugee found on a beach in Turkey – touches a raw nerve in Gisela, whose own son died in tragic circumstances many years ago. Before long, Germany and Bavaria itself will house some of the refugees, and things will be the same again…

Just to remind us that the ‘refugee crisis’ is nothing new, Velevitch looks at the plight of a young woman in 1945. The Second World War is replete with accounts of people leaving Germany and Eastern Europe, but Three Mothers highlights one of the seldom-raised chapters of the period. Following the close of the War, there was the expulsion of all those of German-descent in Sudetenland – the outer most region of the former Czechoslavakia (now known as the Czech Republic). As one of the people told to leave the country, Erika (Vicky Brazier) must travel by foot to Germany with her baby daughter. On an open road, she and many women like her are vulnerable to unscrupulous soldiers who take them by force. It’s generally not taught in syllabuses, but the dark side of most conflicts is the use of rape as a legitimised ‘weapon’ – the Second World War having more than its fair of examples. Here, in this barbaric, uncivilised world, Velevitch show what Erika and women like her were capable of in such extreme circumstances, holding onto their humanity throughout.

Erika (Vicky Brazier) and Khady (Clare Perkins)

As mentioned before, rather than show the monologues in distinct segments, the narratives are interwoven, alluding to the universality of the mothers’ emotions and experiences. Through Khady’s eyes we see why people from Africa take their chance on the open seas, driven by a sense of duty to provide for their family. Of the three monologues, Khady’s has the most moments of levity, as she recalls the gossips whose eyes are more truthful than their smiles, and their shameless curiosity about her texts. What comes across in the play is that while ‘conscription’ doesn’t officially exist in Senegal, the journey that the men make can be likened to this, a rite of passage that the ‘man of the house’ has to do to provide for the family.

Meanwhile, within Gisela’s tale is the interesting dynamic of a woman who has spent much of her life as an ‘outsider’, but now that she’s ‘home’, has to decide if she will extend the hand of friendship. There are certainly reasons why she ‘should’ – knowing what it feels like to be on the other side of the fence – but if as the townspeople are saying, the visitors are not disposing of their refuse responsibly or respectful of their surroundings, are they really worth knowing? Between the pros and the cons, Gisela is still at heart a mother and her capacity for unconditional compassion will be her guide…

© Michael Davis 2017


Three Mothers runs at Waterloo East Theatre until 12th November.

@3Mothersplay : : /

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