Every generation feels an unspoken bond to the one that follows it, and to the one that precedes it. Sasha Hails' play debut suggests the idea of an umbilical cord being the connector between the mother and the daughter, the daughter, and her daughter, and so forth. One thing does not happen without another, and life does not come into existence without one creating it, to begin with. That is the premise of Oscar Pearce's newest project staged at the Arcola Theatre.

Radiant and whimsical protagonist Hope (Diany Samba-Bandza) enters the stage carrying an empty bowl which would later represent the sowing of the seeds of life – or motherhood. Mothers are meant to give life and preserve life, that is what the female characters in Possession have in common. War journalist Alice Young (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) is learning this the hard way in the Democratic Republic of Congo. On a mission to expose the cobalt mines' inhumane conditions, a reckless decision to take her son and his childminder Hope with her to the developing world opens her eyes to the responsibilities we humans have for the wellbeing of those we love. Similarly struggling with motherhood is Hope's mother Kasambayi Mabele (Sarah Amankwah), torn between the truth of her daughter's existence and her self-preservation in the United Kingdom.


Regrettably, all three women suffer from a story arch that is less hopeful as the play's logline suggests. Alice Young, having delved into research into a missionary's wife's attempt to stop colonialist actions in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 19th century, is left to expose the sad reality that the credit for that grand act was taken by the missionary himself after he separated his wife and their children from each other to spread god's word. Similarly limited in an affirming storyline is Hope's mother who has failed her daughter in nothing but a lack of honesty. Amankwah's redemption speech at the end of the play strives to, at last, give her some autonomy by exposing her as a rape victim charity's founder. Despite the actor's sublime portrayal of struggle and an internal fight about love and truth, the writing portrays her as little more than a stay-at-home mum always concerned for her daughter's wellbeing while pointing a finger at other mums who have failed her.


Possession, although focused on the bond between mother and daughter, also serves as a commendatory criticism of women's suffering during and after colonial times. By using the exposure of tragic circumstances that surround cobalt mining (which can be found in each electronic device and is of course attained at the lowest price possible), Hails manages to use an unusual lens for her view on the responsibilities of mothers. To enhance poignant moments and ensure a visible connection between all storylines, director Oscar Pearce has opted for random projections of photographs from the past and the present to light up the theatre space on occasion.


However, a lack of commitment to the themes that are touched upon in the piece, and a rapid jump back and forth in time does not make it easy to form a deep attachment to any of the characters. As such, the protagonist's death and her afterlife do not affect nor serve as a meaningful turning point in the play. Other than as a means to enhance both Amankwah's and Myer-Bennett's characters' development, it feels like just another addition to the already motif-loaded show. 

It runs until 15/07.


Review: Shirley Both         Photo: Alex Brenner