It was over forty years ago that the people of Troedrhigwair began their fight against a local council forcing them out of their homes. Yet it comes as no surprise that, in 2015, a play exploring that chapter of history still feels so relevant. Motherlode manage to bridge that gap between the historical and the contemporary in such a way that it leaves their debut production feeling almost timeless.
The Good Earth places its five characters in a similar struggle to those events in 1973. As the rest of their village leaves for newly-built homes, one family chooses not to. It’s a losing battle, one that is beautifully dramatised with powerful performances and superb sound design. Max Mackintosh’s musical direction is tremendous: only voice and the live sound of moving furniture are used instead of a pre-recorded score, echoing the characters’ conflict between the traditional and the manufactured.
Mackintosh also shows off his acting chops as James, older sibling in this single-parent family. It’s a role requiring tons of charm and charisma, the actor bringing it in spades. The entire cast is brilliant, frankly. Rachael Boulton (who also directs) as Dina, the widowed mother trying to hold it together; Gwenllian Higginson as James’ girlfriend Gwen; and Kate Elis as Trish, best friend and neighbour. The standout, though, is Emma Vickery as Jackie. Her opening monologue is a lesson in comic timing and stage presence, setting the tone for a performance bursting with seemingly limitless energy. She is fully convincing as the child of the family, and it is through her eyes (and heart) that we follow the journey these characters take.
A special mention also needs to go to Rachael Boulton for gluing this structure together. Looking at the final product, it’s astonishing to think that it’s her debut as a director. How she meshes physical theatre with the innovative use of props and sound; how she meshes contemporary storytelling with traditional lyricism; how she meshes laugh-out-loud humour with genuinely heartbreaking drama. It’s tremendous.
The Good Earth, when broken down to its bare bones, explores how powerful unity can be, and does it with aplomb. If that’s the quality of theatre we can expect from Motherlode, then – like the family they so beautifully depict – this unit of collaborators will certainly grow more powerful.