Ten-year-old Star (Shvorne Marks) and her Mama (Joy Elias Rivan) are living in foster care waiting to be granted refugee status by the Home Office. They are just one case among thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in Glasgow after escaping their countries, due to conflict or for political reasons. While they are waiting –not for Godot, but for an official paper to finally arrive—Star creates a poetic world of her own imagination, inhabited by Dog Man, played here by Scottish theatre stalwart, Billy Mack.
Dog Man is an ambivalent character, though. At times he can be mild and gentle, but at others he is irritating and even frightening. While watching the play, I was reminded of my own imaginary friend from early childhood, El Chango -The Monkey. At night my friend would reappear, suddenly transformed into a dangerous enemy, leaving me with a feeling of abandonment. This sensation, I now realize, was all the more intense because I didn’t know what to expect from him, how to please him or avoid him getting angry. So, maybe, when we suffer abandonment, it’s often accompanied by a sense of not knowing the right codes. There is a fundamental riddle that refuses to be solved.
This sensation runs through the entire play and is magnified towards the end. It travels from Star’s imagination into the reality of the asylum system, which, as represented in the play, seems arbitrary: it can favour immigrants and grant them permission to stay, but can also deny it without any apparent reason. Social worker Sarah Jane (brilliantly portrayed by Pauline Knowles), represents this inscrutable system. She is committed to helping Mama and her young daughter but is incapable of supplying the grant they desperately need. Mama herself is unable to communicate in English with Sarah Jane, thus herself becoming an abandoned child at the mercy of strange forces. Her situation is even worse than Star’s in some ways, as she at least knows the language and can serve as an interpreter.
Playwright A J Taudevin has created a politically engaged play with sparks of comedy in its fantasy backdrop. At times the production risks falling into a kind of crude and one-sided realism, especially at the end, but Catrin Evans’s direction creates just the right balance. The stage design is fairly simple, consisting of very few elements. The single bed and chest of drawers in Star’s bedroom evoke the intimate atmosphere of the photographic work of Robin Taudevin, the playwright’s late brother. (The play was inspired by Robin’s work with immigrants in Scotland.)
Some Other Mother was produced in association with The Tron, Scottish Refugee Council and supported by Stellar Quines and On at Life. It was programmed at the heart of Refugee Week Scotland and is touring in different theatres in Scotland in June 2013. The play is a demonstration of how new playwrights and companies are striving to portray a new social climate in Scotland, where immigrants from all around the world are bringing with themselves new issues which demand to be recognized and represented.