The Mother play, performed by The Wheel Theatre company
The Mother play, performed by The Wheel Theatre company

Featuring the Socialist!

Duncan Moore, Plymouth Socialist Party

Protest, strikes and revolution are portrayed in Bertolt Brecht’s The Mother.

In 1905, a Russian woman distributes leaflets to strikers on her son’s behalf to protect him from arrest, leaflets which she can’t read herself. She becomes a revolutionary organiser, learning to read and write Bolshevik papers, collecting subs, and recruiting workers to the party.

Bertolt Brecht was a revolutionary, involved in the Munich uprising of 1919, who turned his talent to socialist theatre. Brecht broke with many of the conventions of establishment theatre, writing plays to teach his audiences about politics, and help them realise the necessity of revolutionary change.

Brecht followed the mistaken Stalinist line of the German Communist Party on many crucial issues, though he was no toady of the Stalinist bureaucracy, and he admired Trotsky’s writings.

The Mother is one of Brecht’s ‘lehrstücke’ – plays written to educate and to entertain.

The play follows ‘The Mother’ from the 1905 revolution until February 1917, during which time the character Pelagea encounters trade union bureaucrats, the intelligentsia, strike breakers, and finally other working-class mothers queuing to donate to the World War One effort.

Each time she uses her intuition, experience and instinctive political nous to win them to the side of the Bolsheviks.

Co-director Amanda Collins spoke to the Socialist:

What is The Mother about?

Brecht was inspired by Maxim Gorky’s novel The Mother to write a play of the same name. It tells the story of a working-class mother who is drawn into the struggle for Bolshevik revolution, and shows her journey from hopelessness and apathy to activism.

Why did you decide to do this play at this time? What is its relevance?

The play feels incredibly relevant to today. It opens in Russia in 1905 during a time of protest, strikes and civil unrest. Our protagonist, Pelagea, is a working-class, widowed mother, who is worn down from a cost-of-living crisis, and is struggling to put food on the table. While she is worried about her son’s involvement in upcoming strikes, she is also shocked by the reaction of the authorities, the police brutality and the authorities collusion with big business. The play is asking how can individuals respond in the face of injustice, what is our responsibility, and how can we affect change. 

The Wheel Theatre company in Plymouth is performing Brecht’s The Mother at the Plymouth Barbican Theatre on the 16 and 17 June, and at the Exeter Cygnet on the 22, 23 and 24 June.

Duncan Moore plays The Teacher, and members of the Plymouth and Devon Socialist Party branches will be selling the Socialist newspaper on the door – and it also features in the play as a prop!