It is undoubted that Mary Slessor lived an interesting and varied life, spending most of her early years working in a jute mill and living in the slums of Dundee before setting sail for Calabar as a missionary. There she helped build schools, hospitals, saved countless lives and was a powerful advocate for women’s rights. And Mother of all the Peoples is such a poor play that by the end you won’t care about any of it.
The cast were woefully under-prepared for this production. They often and noticeably mumbled lines and got them wrong. It was also a bold choice to stage a musical with performers who can’t actually sing. Lynne Binnie and Tricia Stewart who play Elder Mary and Younger Mary were simply out of pitch and not capable of hitting the high notes in the musical numbers. The cast also seemed to have a difficult time harmonising with each other and missed their cues on several occasions. Luckily, these are all moot points as the songs they were singing badly wouldn’t be much better sung well; it’s hard to be impressed when one lyric is rhymed with the exact same word in the next line.
Inspiration for the play was drawn from Elizabeth Robertson’s The Barefoot Missionary and while being unable to attest to the quality of that work, Mike Gibb’s script reads like a badly-written novel, which is to say the writing is lazy. The plot is not hard to follow, so it is all the more insulting when they repeatedly spell out what has happened and what will happen, something most apparent when Elder Mary speaks directly at the audience, explaining what exactly it is they are about to see Younger Mary act out.
Mother of all the Peoples seems to relish portraying Mary Slessor’s life in the most boring way possible. For instance, at one point it is necessary for Slessor to confront the witch doctor of a local tribe in order to save the lives of two infants. Instead of devoting some time to this scene, perhaps building in a little tension or a sense of peril, Mike Gibb and Mairi Warren have it played out by Elder Mary crossing her arms and taking three steps towards the audience, opting instead to give time to a four-minute song about a petticoat.
All proceeds for this play go to the Mary Slessor Foundation, a charity that provides Nigerian communities with the opportunity to learn new skills such as auto-repair, metalwork and welding. If you want to help, don’t go to see the play. Instead just click here and donate to the charity; it’s the slessor of two evils.