Andrew Georgeson previews the Library Theatre Company’s production of Brecht’s classic war drama Mother Courage and Her Children
‘I didn’t know anything about Mother Courage when I auditioned for the role, and I’m glad I didn’t,’ laughed Eve Polycarpou, the title carrying character.
I was surprised to hear this given not only the reputation of Brecht’s play, hailed as the best anti-war play ever written, but also the influence of the translation, they were using Tony Kushner’s who was recently nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay for Lincoln.
However, Eve went on to say ‘I was lucky not to know anything about it’ due to it’s proud heritage, and ‘started to discover things along the way about the play, and the people who I immensely respect, who formed it’s reputation.’
The play would prove not only a massive task for an experienced actress such as Eve, but also for two student actors from Manchester School of Theatre – Alex Bennett and Ben Boskovic. Alex described his acquisition of the role as ‘magic.’
The director Chris Honer, who is praised by both for his broad casting, asked the school of Theatre’s director for two students who were simply picked out of the hat.
Although believing there is an ‘immense pressure’ that comes with performing such an influential play, there is a notable excitement, not only, as Ben believed, because it is ‘our first insight into the professional process’ but also to just to ‘sit and watch maters such as Eve.’
It is a respect that is reciprocated between the cast, Eve stating she believes it is ‘invaluable’ to have young actors like Alex and Ben alongside her, not only for the enthusiasm they bring, but also for the skill of the young men involved.
The reality of this production is startling. Not only because of the reputation that it carries but also from a performance perspective.
The play is over two and a half hours long and has 12 scenes, with Mother Courage present on the stage for all but one scene. There is a heavy reliance on musicianship which all three are involved in, not only do they sing but they also form part of the ensemble when not on stage.
Ben said: ‘There is an extreme challenge to switch between acting and musicianship and an added pressure from being a character on stage to then playing the glockenspiel, not many writers demand so much of a challenge in one show.’ Alex reaffirmed the challenge posed by the production but added ‘once you’re exhausted, you know you’ve told the story well.’
There is a message that transcends generations in Brecht’s play. Eve commented on the piece saying ‘one of the things I find incredible is it is today’s piece, not only in the context of overseas war, but also the horrific reality of internal wars, such as mothers and fathers bringing up children without enough money.’ The character of Mother Courage is also one that she believes encompasses the idea of contemporary struggle.
Despite continually coming across as heartless during the play, Eve does empathise with the character ‘because she is really struggling to keep her children alive, and keep them out of the war,’ however, she does concede that ‘she doesn’t always do it in the best way.’
There is an irony within the play as it carries the concept of Epic Theatre, which rather than allowing the audience to become enthralled with the characters themselves, is more focused on the message, which is one of the reasons for the constant scene changes, as well as the fact that Ben and Alex will play more than one character.
However, judging by the experience and enthusiasm of the cast, it may be hard not to become captivated with the characters, and alongside the skilled musicianship, it all suggests that Mother Courage will be a must see show.
Runs 22nd February – 9th March at The Lowry