IN BRIEF Compassionate and poetic play about the tensions of modern motherhood given strong voice by a fine central performance
CHASING RAINBOWS is the uplifting, deeply human and inspiring story of Ama Baptiste – the first black woman astronaut. High above the Earth, alone in the space station, she records segments of an address for her daughter’s high school graduation class of 2019. Except that her daughter doesn’t want her to do it.
This is a story of the tensions of contemporary mothers, endlessly trying to square the circle of doing what is best for their children, whilst not losing sight of their own aspirations.
Video recorded answers to written questions from the graduates punctuate Ama’s relating of her life journey, interspersed with conversations – past and imagined -between Ama and her daughter Sola.
She tells of her struggle to excel and succeed. Battling the self-limiting beliefs of her native West Indian community – from the religious mother exhorting only prayer and churchgoing, to the bricklayer husband who calls her aspirations “stupidness”, as well as the injustice of sex inequality (“If I had a cock no-one would question my motives”). She forges ahead to make her mark upon the world, making plans to share that with her young daughter. However, “Nine years and a rocket full of tears” later, Ama is in space and her daughter is graduating. Time has created its own kind of non-geographical distance. And Sola has her own news for her Mother, too.
Lack of understanding leads to self-doubt and self-blame. “Is that why you left, ‘cause I’m stupid?” says Sola. Ama describes her own relationship with her Mother as difficult, echoed in affecting moments of reaching for understanding with Sola- and missing, making them all the more poignant.
Guilt, sadness, regret and yearning all play their part in the feelings which dart across Ama’s face and through her mind. An engaging, genuinely touching and authentic portrayal by Donna Berlin as Ama (attached to a flying rope) holds the stage, enhanced by the late appearance of Emmanuella Toure playing daughter Sola.
Ama’s final decision to record the speech in spite of her daughter’s protests validates herself and is an emotionally liberating moment which was felt through the audience, who gave a warm and enthusiastic reception to this affecting and sincere hour of feminist theatre. “I had to sing my own song”, she says, “I own this story”. And we applaud her for doing so.
OneNess Sankara’s verse-woven script flows well, without pretence, and often makes it possible to really enjoy the use of language. Karena Johnson’s sensitive and compassionate direction allow the words to breathe and the performances to rise.
The use of flying gives a partial freedom from gravity and Berlin is confident in its use, but I do wonder if more might have been made of that element of the show: but it is nevertheless interesting in its contradiction as an expression of both liberation and confinement.
As a play, CHASING RAINBOWS offers no solutions, excepting the advice shared to the graduates by Ama herself when asked what the three most important qualities are in life “Respect, forgiveness and patience”. Qualities we could all do with more of. But the play is valuable in allowing us to empathise with modern mothers, and to remember that they, like us, are just doing the best they can.
CHASING RAINBOWS plays at Hoxton Hall on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until July 20th. Information and tickets here