Review – Some Other Mother

Jun 8 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Poetry of helplessness

Shvorne Marks (Star) and Billy Mack (Dogman) in AJ Toudervin's Some Other Mother. Photo © Oein Carey

Shvorne Marks (Star) and Billy Mack (Dogman). Photo © Eoin Carey

Traverse Theatre
Fri 7 – Sat 8 June
Review by Hugh Simpson

The words ‘produced in association with the Scottish Refugee Council’ on a theatre programme will create a variety of reactions. Any suggestion, however, that AJ Taudevin’s new play would put worthy points-scoring ahead of drama are soon dispelled by an involving and poetic performance.

The play features Nigerian asylum seeker Mama and her ten-year-old daughter Star, who are living in fear that they will be sent back to a country they describe as ‘broken’. The play does not take a documentary approach to their life in a Glasgow tower block, instead drawing largely on the escapist, imaginary world Star constructs.

These non-realistic elements contribute greatly to the play’s impact. Billy Mack’s performance as Star’s imaginary friend Dog Man is both energetic and oddly touching; the way that his stubborn use of the occasional Scots word gives way to occasional Yoruba (and other languages later) not only mirrors Mama’s increased use of English, but also makes a subtle and convincing point about cultural exchange similar to that in Edwin Morgan’s famous poem The First Men on Mercury.

When the real world intrudes too much, the play comes closest to being too much to bear, either emotionally or theatrically. The choice to make the real villains of the piece – the representatives of the UK Border Agency – a purely offstage presence is a very wise one dramatically. However, this means that the only real representative of authority on stage, well-meaning but helpless social worker Sarah-Jane (Pauline Knowles), carries a weight in the plot that the character cannot withstand, being too sketchily drawn and too stereotyped.

Humour, imagination and tenderness

Buy the script:

Knowles is much more convincing in her other role as neighbour Janice, who also appears to be a stock figure initially but whose poetic language extends beyond the creative use of swearing she displays on her first appearance.

The real centre of the play, however, is the relationship between the mother and daughter. Joy Elias-Rilwan is compelling in her portrayal of Mama as a woman who is not only losing a battle with faceless bureaucracy, but also losing a battle with herself.

Naming a character ‘Star’ could be seen as offering something of a hostage to fortune, but Shvorne Marks manages to convey not only the character’s boundless imagination as she seeks to create a world based on stories she and her mother once shared, but also the fear and defensiveness caused by the intrusion of the real world.

Aided by particularly effective set and sound design, director Catrin Evans creates a dramatic and emotional focus which is sustained from start to finish. While it undeniably deals honestly with a very difficult subject, the overall feeling is not as bleak as it might be. We are reminded that there can be humour, imagination and tenderness in even the most difficult situations.

Running time 1 hr 15 mins
Run ends Saturday 8 June 2013
Tickets from:
The Traverse, 10 Cambridge Street EH1 2ED. Fri/Sat, 8pm.

Some Other Mother on Tour

7 – 8 June Edinburgh
Traverse Theatre
0131 228 1404 Book online
12 June Stirling
01786 466666 Book online
14 – 15 June Glasgow
Tron Theatre
0141 552 4267 Book online
19 June New Galloway
01644 420374 Book online
20 June Paisley
Paisley Arts Centre
0300 300 1210 Book online
22 June Falkirk
01324 506850 Book online
23 June Perth
Solas Festival
Book online
25 June Inverrness
Eden Court
01463 234 234 Book online
27 June Mull
Mull Theatre
01688 30282 Book online


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Comments (2)

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  1. Jamie says:

    This is an utterly spellbinding play which had me riveted from start to finish. 

    It not only portrays the deterioration of a mother, but that of her daughter, Star.

     It is a stark description of the way that children cope with deep uncertainty and anxiety done with a poetry that allows us to experience and almost bear this pain. 

    As Star begins to realise her incapacity to both make sense of and control hugely important events around her she uses her imagination and fantasy to try to do so. In the play this is evoked by the ‘dog man’ who acts as her alter ego and unconscious. 

    Dog Man makes his first appearance behind a celephane wall, present, seen by us as the audience and Star but not by those around her. As Star realises the uncontrollability of her situation and I suppose cannot contemplate it’s terrifying possibilities he breaks free from his see-through wall into Stars bedroom and so more into her life. 

    Throughout the play there is a poetic motif about an albatross looking for land to nurture her children. Dog mans narrative is about fear and danger, he speaks of the albatross babies or ‘wains’ as being fed glass and cigarette lighters.  This unpalatable nurturing was, I felt, an evocation of the reality of Stars new world and land, one which she can only reflect upon it’s truth via her  unconscious. 

    Winnicott, said ‘there is no such thing as a baby”, and to me this play was a powerful evocation of this.   Yes the play was about a mother and other characters were there to help and respond to her, however for me it was a play about the way children cope with intolerable feelings and how this impacts upon them. This is brilliantly and touchingingly done.