Book by Finn Anderson & Tania Azevedo
Music & Lyrics by Finn Anderson
Directed by Tania Azevedo
Musical Arrangements Created by Finn Anderson and A Mother’s Song Band.
The distinctiveness and reverence of folk language are unlike any other, particularly in Scottish culture. Transcending time and location, many who leave homelands carry with them the endless echoes of their loved ones and heroes through ballads, movement, and a form of expression which speaks to us all. But even when their autonomy is silenced, their voices may yet ring through history. That is the force which A Mother’s Song channels throughout – a presence of the past, of the present, and the women of the future.
In development since 2017, Finn Anderson and Tania Azevedo’s traditional folk musical rises to the chants of eager audiences this week at the Macroberts Art Centre, Stirling until February 26th: though we’ll put our money on a larger tour in the near future.
Starting where reflections begin, not with the past, but the present, A Mother’s Song finds a young woman, Sarah, left with the temptation of a box left to her by her estranged Aunt Betty. Sarah’s partner Alix thinks nothing good comes from opening the box. But resisting temptation is thankfully not Sarah’s strongest asset. As with the opening of the box, a flood of memories, stories, and a shining sliver of womanhood and motherhood is unleashed into their U.S. apartment, bringing Sarah back to the heart of Scotland.
Linked through shared stories and folk songs passed through generations, chiefly that of The Four Marys, Anderson and Azevedo’s production places traditional and contemporised folk sound throughout the centre of A Mother’s Song. Even with Simon Wilkinson’s creative lighting design, which basks everything in a persistent nostalgic glow, and Lindsay McAllister’s beautifully simple but grounded choreography, Anderson and Azevedo’s story is an auditory storytelling experience – a rare piece which can communicate everything it needs to those unable to watch the stage.
Beginning to unravel her family history, Sarah finds the box contains Aunt Betty’s research into the women and mothers of their genealogy. Fascinated, Sarah loses herself to the stories, of the spurn and potential loss of her loving partner Alix, played with great authenticity and sincerity by Tinashe Warikandwa, who also takes on additional roles within other stories. With Bethany Tennick as Sarah, the pair’s relationship is a touching one, and has a firm injection of reality surrounding it – Tennick’s Sarah is never antagonistic in her pursuit of information, bringing a life-affirming and mortal approach to the role – carrying superb vocals which both compliment the composition, and infuse a wealth of emotion to the lyrics.
Blythe Jandoo and Kirsty Findlay perform as significant a role as our protagonist Sarah, played by Findlay’s (and Anderson’s) Islander: A New Musical co-star Tennick. In truth, The Four Marys makes a reflective return in our quartet of protagonists: Sarah, Betty, now Cait (Findlay) and Jean (Jandoo). It’s initially a tough grasp to follow all four women as they build a bedrock of character and motivation, some receiving tighter writing while others develop much further into the narrative. It passes, though not quickly, A Mother’s Song may find terrific pacing through music, but some audiences struggle with its smouldering embers of plot threading before it bursts into a glorious flame in the second act.
Cait, wife of the Minister, exists in the all-too-familiar world in which abortion sits amongst the most ‘sinful’ of decisions. How times have changed. And despite her initial adoration for her husband Jamie, she begins to pull away, knowing his aggressive advances and desires for a child. Her descendant, Jean, finds out that she is carrying a baby – the result of a passionate encounter with a man who out to sea. The duality of movement in the pair, whose stories often intertwine both musically and narratively, especially through standout numbers An Unexpected Visitor and Change of Plan, communicate vastly differentiating responses to the discovery of their pregnancy both illustrating the hardships and endless, and exhausting struggles faced, finding commonality in the pair’s lack of choice.
The score offers swing Stephanie MacGaraidh and Craig hunter, who plays various men through the families’ history, a chance to flex their vocals. Initially, the openness of the Macroberts stage enables Bell and the ‘Shadows’ the opportunity to capture the beat of the rhythm, synchronising with the racing pulse of the audience’s obvious and intrepid excitement. But swiftly, the barrenness of the stage makes way for Emma Bailey’s initially bare and stripped set, with the live A Mother’s Song Band perched atop throughout the performance. It shifts between the New York loft apartment, to the dockyards of Scotland and Cliff-edges, surgeries, and secure havens, and at worst, a cage – a parish rectory no less.
An effective piece of staging, dividing and shifting as the story requires, the management of this requires a degree of streamlining to ensure both the flow of movement and the safety of the cast. But as a foundation for the band – it’s a perfect showpiece for the production’s continued importance: sound. A four-piece band of Shonagh Murray, Jenny Clifford, Signy Jakobsdottir and Laura White maintain a perfectly pitched rounding of Anderson’s score – perfectly synchronising with the in-the-round nature of the repetition of the lyrics to further its potency and resonance.
Anderson and Azevedo’s piece is a revitalisation of Scottish Folksong in contemporary garb, a unique and engaging catalyst seeking to pursue the frankness and continually evolving conversations of what autonomy and freedom look like for women and both our shortcomings and victories, however small. There’s little question that stepping out of the dark, and into the sometimes uncomfortable, but necessary light, will come as A Mother’s Song continues to push for Scottish theatre’s wider step on the world stage.
An Engaging Catalyst
A Mother’s Song runs at the Macroberts Art Centre until February 26th.
The show runs for 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval. Tuesday– Saturday at 19.30pm, and a matinee on Saturday at 14.30pm. Suitable for ages 14+
Tickets are available from £19 and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
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