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Review – Motherland: a beautiful piece of work

Right: Lighting designer David Walters with Barbara Lowing.

Photos by Deanne Scott


By Katherine Lyall-Watson

Directed by Caroline Dunphy

Ellen Belloo and Critical Stages Production

Presented by Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

75, Montague Road

South Brisbane

Season April 20-30. Bookings: or 136 246. Duration: 90 minutes with no interval.

This new production of Katherine Lyall-Watson’s play is a beautiful piece of work in every possible way. It is a finely crafted script that melds perfectly from character to character, time-frame to time-frame and country to country. It covers events in the Russian Revolution, World War II and even the Fitzgerald Inquiry in Queensland in the 1980s.

It is the story of three real women, two Russians and an Australian and their men, also two Russians and an Australian. The plot however is fictional, inspired by the real characters and times and it tells a totally engrossing story that had me involved from the first second.

The script is so cleverly written that there was never any doubt in my mind which time zone, country or relationship was on display. The intricate story held me completely for the while 90 minutes.

And it was all played out on a simple set with a few chairs and boxes as props, aided by David Walters’ lighting plot and an evocative soundscape from Dane Alexander that covered machine gun fire, exploding bombs and music.

Nina Berberova is the existentialist poet, a free spirit who chooses not to marry her man, also a poet but one with failing health and a poem he cannot finish. This is Barbara Lowing at her best. She brilliantly changes time zones from a 90-year-old to a young woman with simple vocal delivery and never even a change of costume.

Nell Tritton, played by Kerith Atkinson, is the Brisbane-born reporter who married Alexander Kerensky a deposed Pre-Stalin Russian prime minister. She forms a close friendship with Nina Berberova, who is exiled in Paris. The woman who links their story is Alyona, a Russian museum curator, who married an Aussie businessman and moved to Brisbane. This was a beautiful characterisation by Rebecca Riggs. Danny Murphy played Alyona’s son Sasha and it was a lovely portrait of a schoolboy devastated at leaving his Russian home. He also played Vladislav, the sickly poet, with a complete change of voice and demeanour.

Alyona still lives in Brisbane and I had an interesting chat with her as we walked to our parked cars after the show.

I must say here that all five of the actors were superb. Danny Murphy slipped neatly between Nina’s Vladislav and Sasha while Peter Cossar changed accents very easily from Russian to Australian as Cliff and the paranoid ex-Prime Minister Kerensky.

In one particular scene as both men, he talked to the women who were living different places, one on either side of him on stage and never missed a beat in telling the two stories.

The play was first performed in 2013 to acclaim and now, after more work and a new technical team, the script comes to life in a new way. It is one of the best plays I have seen in a while.

Above: Eric Scott chats with a delighted Katherine Lyall-Watson.

Below: Katherine Lyall-Watson, with QTC's Exective Director Sue Donnelly, thanksa her cvast and creatuves.

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