Europe is awash with migrants. War, genocide, economic conditions and deportation have caused a mass of dispossessed people to be wandering around seeking everything from a new life away from fear to just somewhere warm to rest their head. The funny thing is, anyone reading this opening will believe they already know about the migrant issue. It’s on the news all the time and has become a bit of political hot potato. But, the current situation is not the first time Europe has suffered a migrant crisis. You only need to go back seventy years to find another time when migration was a major problem for the countries of Europe. Today and the past are at the heart of Matilda Velevitch’s play Three Mothers at the Waterloo East Theatre.
Told as three intertwining monologues, Three Mothers tells the story of three women separated by time and space. First, there is Khady (Clare Perkins) who lives in a village in Senegal. Following the death of her husband, Khady has raised some money and sent her son off to start a life in Europe. Once there, she hopes he will get a job and be able to send money back to her and the rest of her family.
Next is Gisela (Roberta Kerr) an elderly Austrian who, following the death of her husband, has returned to her Bavarian hometown. Now in her seventies, Gisela finds the village to be vastly changed from the one she left. Changed, not just by the usual movement of time, but also by an influx of asylum seekers who the federal government have farmed out. Gisela wastes no time in getting involved with assisting these new, strange villagers and, under the watchful eye of the village matriarch, is soon heavily involved in their integration into village life.
Finally, we step back in time to meet Erika (Victoria Brazier). World War II has ended and the victims of the Nazi’s are everywhere. However, Erika is not a detainee from one of the concentration camps, she is a Sudetenland German. Born and raised in Czechoslovakia, Erika is one of the reasons that the war started and is being punished for it by being expelled from the country she has always called home. Although she has never been to Germany, that is where she and her baby daughter must go. Along with thousands of others, walking the streets and roads in all weathers and with no support, Erika must face daily humiliation and worse at the hands of the local populace and the victorious Russian army in her journey to a homeland that is reluctant to accept her.
On their own, these are three very powerful stories but when combined together it can become almost overwhelming. All three stories are wonderfully written and told by an excellent cast of actors.
For me, the most fascinating story was that told by Gisela. This was a woman who, while she was married and lived in England, had always been a stranger in a strange land. You got the feeling that the English, whilst accepting her for her husband’s sake, didn’t necessarily welcome Gisela with open arms. Yet, when she returns to Bavaria and sees her village so changed by the new population, she doesn’t turn into some sort of right-wing NIMBY, but commits herself to providing as much help as she can. A really heartwarming story.
Khady’s story was an odd one. The concept of economic migrants – those that come, not because they are fleeing persecution or war but just to seek a better life – is one that is usually portrayed in a negative light. But, there was something about Khady, and her infallible reasoning, that actually made the idea seem very natural and right.
Turning to Erika’s story and, for me, this the one I least connected with. Although the subject matter was fascinating – I had no idea that the Sudetenland Germans had effectively been kicked out of their country after the war ended – I just didn’t fully take to this tale. Having said that, there were some amazing twists in the story which took me by surprise and there was something really reassuring in the dogged way that Erika carried on walking. Her steps keeping up a steady beat in the background the whole time.
Overall then Three Mothers really gets to the heart of what it is to be a mother and what you would do to protect your family – whether directly related or part of some extended virtual family. Janys Chambers directs the story well, with the speaker always being the centre of focus but with the others there to support. I personally would have preferred the play to run straight through rather than having an interval which, I felt, was an unwelcome break to the story. But having said that, I did really enjoy the story and loved some of the real human touches and interspersed television news snippets reminding us that this isn’t just a play. The story of Three Mothers is being played out in real life every day.
At the end, all three monologues end with hope and this feels right for without hope, how could any of the Three Mothers have been as brave and determined as they were.
Review by Terry Eastham
When Khady’s husband dies, she is forced to sell his goats. Sending her eldest son away from Senegal across desert and sea to Europe, in the hope that he will find a better life, she plunges her entire family into uncertainty.
When Gisela’s life in England is turned upside down, she goes home to Bavaria seeking comfort and familiarity. But her attempts to assist the steady flow of refugees arriving in her childhood village soon awaken memories from her own past.
Erika reveals the truth about the journey made on foot with her baby daughter after being expelled from Sudetenland in 1945.
The bold choices made by these three mothers are brought together as one compelling narrative in this play.
By Matilda Velevitch
Cast: Clare Perkins, Roberta Kerr and Vicky Brazier
For more information visit www.threemothers.co.uk
Three Women, Two Children, One Story…
A compelling and uplifting story about motherhood, homeland and
the power of love, told with insight, warmth, and humour.
31st October to 12th November 2017