Sweet Mother is an oral history project created and directed by Nwoko Arts artistic director Maria Paul where real families, real stories, and real lives take centre stage in a never before told story and I was pleased to catch up with her along with producer Peter Ward and one of the cast Margaret Connell to discover more.
Paul explains that Sweet Mother is a celebration of the strength of white women who fell in love with, married and raised families with black men in the Liverpool 8 community during a time of racial unrest. In creating the play, she interviewed dozens of women from the local community who shared their experiences of raising families in 1950s to 1980s Toxteth, with the play itself focusing on the stories of four of these women – Joan Caddick, Marie Chicken, Josie Burger, and Vera McRae – who were not only rejected by their own communities but were not easily welcomed by the women of the community they moved into.
Existing racial tensions were to be further exacerbated by draconian policing measures which added to the tinderbox that eventually erupted in the 1981 riots in Toxteth, and provides an important backdrop to these stories: a real, living, breathing history that you can feel when you hear these tales.
With the cast able to meet the women who are now all in their seventies, Paul has been keen not to re-enact their scenes, rather to capture their energy, soul, and spirit, and this is apparent from the film clips and excerpts from the upcoming production on offer tonight beginning with the beautiful rendition of ‘You Send Me.’
And there is a personal touch to all of this as Paul’s mother Lillian, was one of these women, meeting and marrying her Nigerian father, Nwoko Paul, and although the marriage was not to last, Lillian was keen to ensure her children fully appreciated their cultural background, often preparing traditional African food for them even though they would have preferred fish and chips! Lillian became an accomplished poet and her poem, Married in Black, served as inspiration for a scratch piece at the Lantern Theatre five years ago that has led to this fuller piece.
With the support and assistance of Connell and Ward, Paul has been able to secure Arts Council funding, presenting workshops at Liverpool John Moores University which she intends to roll out to schools. The relevance of the material to other cities in the UK and the recent rise in nationalism will hasten the development of a national tour to reach out to the heart of other communities that have faced and are facing similar challenges.
Don’t miss this important piece of social history. These women have lived incredible lives and have an archive of shared memories and stories that could translate to the silver screen. Blending movement, music and song with a slice of scouse humour, the play highlights the challenges these women faced, while also looking at the unforgettable bonds created in being a member of their community.
Nwoko Arts was established by Maria Paul over a year ago. The aim of the company is to work with disengaged and culturally diverse communities by offering them a platform to ensure their voices are heard by using the creative arts as a tool.
Sweet Mother performs at Liverpool’s Royal Court on 13th and 14th March with performance starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced at £12 (£10 concessions) and are available via www.liverpoolsroyalcourt.com or the box office on 0151 709 4321.