Sweet Mother review – sorrow, joy and self-reliance in Toxteth

St Luke’s Bombed Out Church, Liverpool theatre festival

Prejudice and passion powers Maria Paul’s oral history of three white women who married black men in Liverpool 8

Performers are the public face of the arts’ response to coronavirus but, behind the scenes, producers and theatre-owners around the country are working flat out to keep theatre live and alive. David Pugh staged Educating Rita in Cornwall; Nica Burns is arranging for Six to reopen in London later this year and Bill Elms has created this new Liverpool theatre festival to meet our strange, coronavirus circumstances. He selected productions less than 75 minutes long that could be presented in the open-to-the-skies ruins of St Luke’s church before a temperature-measured, bubble-spaced audience. The setting seems symbolic: “the bombed out church”, hit in the blitz in 1941, is a reminder both of bad times and of people’s capacity to come through them.

Twelve shows are presented. The one I catch, Sweet Mother, is part of an ongoing oral-history project initiated by Maria Paul of Nwoko Arts. Paul recorded the stories of white women who had married black men and brought up families in Liverpool 8. From these, she developed a script that follows the lives of Josie, Vera and Joan from the second world war up until the Toxteth riots of 1981. Their tales unfurl partly via recordings of their voices, crackling over loudspeakers, but mostly via three actors who speak the women’s words, groove their dance moves, cry their sorrows and strut their triumphs, as they meet tough times with verve, wit and humour, holding their heads high in the face of hardship and racial prejudice (Amanda George-Higgins, Margaret Connell and Lisa McMahon, respectively, do their subjects justice).

Continue reading…