Theatre review: Mother to Mother

Posted: October 7, 2009 in Restaurant Reviews
Directed: Janice Honeyman
Cast: Thembi Mtshali-Jones
Review: Astrid Stark

First published in the Sunday Independent Sunday 4 October ‘09

A young Valedictorian and fervent human rights advocate is driving her friends home after a long day’s work. It is 1993 and she has been helping residents in the volatile township of Gugulethu register for the country’s first democratic elections. Tomorrow she will leave South Africa and return to her parents in America. Suddenly her car is surrounded by a mob of angry youths chanting ‘One settler one bullet’. The windscreen is smashed. She is pulled out of the car, beaten, and finally stabbed to death in front of her horrified friends.

Thembi Mtshali-Jones photo by Eric Miller

Thembi Mtshali-Jones photo by Eric Miller

This was the murder of Amy Biehl which shook the shook the world because of its brutality and injustice. When author, poet and playwright, Sindiwe Magona heard about this tragic event, she realised that it took place close to her house in Gugulethu and that one of the perpetrators was her neighbour’s son. Magona thought about how easily it could have been her own son caught up in the violence of the time. So it came that Magona wrote her first novel, Mother to Mother, which has been now been adapted for stage by herself and Janice Honeyman.

The subject matter of murder, political turmoil, hatred and racial divide may not exactly appeal to the masses, which is unfortunate, because Magona and Honeyman’s approach to the one-woman play focuses on an angle that perhaps not too many people have considered; the viewpoint of the distraught mother of one of the culprits. Do you love your child less after he has killed someone? Mother to Mother is an exploration of what happens when two mothers’ worlds brutally collides through the actions of their children and how this leads them on a journey of understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. What makes this an exceptional story is that not only did the murdered Amy Biehl’s parents forgive the murder accused, after they were pardoned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; they also started the Amy Biehl foundation which develops and empowers youth in the townships. What is even more remarkable is that two of the convicted murderers are now working with Amy’s mother at the foundation; proving that the Truth and Reconciliation Committee –despite some of its flaws – in principle, works. Two men who would have spent most of their lives in jail now have the opportunity to reform themselves and others around them.

Award-winning Thembi Mtshali-Jones, brings this one-woman drama to life as the mother of one of the murderers. Her character is instantly recognisable as the domestic worker, the silent woman that lives next door, raising her children alone and in a violent society. We have all seen her, but our guilt sometimes makes us blind to her plight. Mtshali-Jones is known for, among others, her roles in SOS, Scoop Schoombie and Madam and Eve. She has been nominated for an International Emmy in 2004 for her role in the sitcom, Stokvel. Her performance is very powerful and touching as she takes us through the journey of discovering that her dear, but very troubled son, has killed a foreign girl. She weeps as she says that Amy Biehl’s mother can at least live with the knowledge that her daughter was a good person, whereas she herself has to live with the guilt and sorrow of producing a child that became a murderer.

Mtshali-Jones convincingly delivers Magona’s beautiful, almost poetic, writing. Magona who has been published internationally, again proves herself as the accomplished storyteller, and the audience remains spellbound for the full 80 minutes of the production. Magona’s intelligent writing introduces us to the private thoughts and feelings of a domestic worker; rare opportunity.

Janice Honeyman’s direction is deliberate and the pace steady. Honeyman whose work has won multiple awards, recently produced of I Am My Own Wife, which is returning to the Baxter for a third run.

Mother to Mother is a production which all South African should see. Witnessing people transcend tragedy and pain through understanding is a life lesson that we all could benefit from. Without understanding there can be no forgiveness or reconciliation. Most of us can learn how to forgive, but to actually immerse yourself in ongoing reconciliation must take superhuman effort, and this is what makes Mother to Mother such a remarkable story.

Woman to Woman runs at the Baxter Theatre until 10 October.

The End.

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