Our review of new musical "A Mother's Song", at the Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling.
A Mother’s Song is an ambitious attempt to create a new Scottish musical. The story concerns four generations of women, and the songs that have been passed down through those generations. It shows how songs become altered as the people singing them relocate, as times change, and as different cultures meet and merge.
In contemporary Brooklyn, Sarah (Bethany Tennick), a Professor, who is still somehow working towards her PhD, has just moved into a tiny apartment with her partner Alix (Tinashe Warikandwa – who multi-roles). Alix is a Human Rights Lawyer, and, as is plainly implied, the major income-earner of the pair.
Sarah has a box from her Aunt Betty (Melanie Bell) that has remained unpacked for two years, and been through three house moves with her. But Sarah has fallen out with her family, and has severed almost all contact with them.
Meanwhile, way back in the past, we are introduced to Cait (Kirsty Findlay), who is pregnant but doesn’t want to be, despite being married to a Kirk minister, Jamie (Craig Hunter – who plays all the male roles). We also meet Jean (Blythe Jandoo), pregnant, and alone, and perfectly content with that.
As well as the songs which have been passed down, and altered as they do so, it also becomes apparent that the choices and restrictions facing the women have remained largely the same, and only slightly altered by circumstance.
None of these women have money of their own – they are all reliant on a partner or other family member, or, in Jean’s case, an almost stranger, for any sort of financial security.
Cait is reliant on her husband, who won’t allow her to have her own money at all. Jean, and her sister Shona, the great-grandchildren of Cait, are facing what the audience will realise is one of the Great Irish Famines, and toil endlessly in fields for the benefit of their parents, who retain what little money the family has. In Sarah’s case, she is reliant on Alix to pay the bulk of the mortgage on their plush new flat.
The musical is a story of grief; of terrible options; of how women still have to surrender their own desires and dreams to those of others. It’s a story of how where we are from shapes us, and of how we shape the memories of the past that are handed down to us. It’s a cautionary tale, that shows that even as societies evolve, the choices available to women often remain restricted, and require women to make difficult choices, which often have devastating consequences.
Composer Finn Anderson has skillfully blended traditional lullabies and ballads with modern folk music, and even hints of bluegrass, to reflect the Appalachian variants of the songs. There is a distinctly Come From Away vibe to music, blended with a Once feel that comes from the overall intimacy of the production.
New musicals are exceptionally difficult to bring to fruition, especially those created outwith the creative bubble of London, and the bravery of the creative team behind A Mother’s Song should not be under-estimated.
There must surely be a hope that this new musical, six years in development, is going to end up on either a West End stage, or Broadway, or both. The show does definitely have a potential future, but there are a few things that could do with a closer examination before the next production.
This show is plainly designed to appeal to the huge number of Americans who claim Scottish or Irish ancestry, with the Scottish character of Cait, and the Scots-Irish Jean and Shona. There are some very delicate politics in the background of these women’s lives that needs to be re-examined and given clarity in any amended script. More time given to the endings of each woman’s story would also have given more balance, and allowed for a stronger feeling of authenticity. It’s refreshing however to see a stage production which focuses on women in history who were ordinary people, rather than Queens, or authors, or the otherwise famous.
Despite those edits and adjustments needed, this was still a hugely enjoyable production to watch, and the heart-strings were definitely tugged upon. The music was performed exquisitely, and with obvious passion, and there are some catchy songs amongst the over a dozen original numbers. Overall then, A Mother’s Song represents a strong bid to become an international success. Catch it as soon as you can, before it becomes a breakout Broadway hit, and, like Jean, Cait and Sarah, you just can’t afford a ticket.
Featured Image Credit: A Mother’s Song