Review: Mother Courage and Her Children
In typical Brechtian fashion, the normal rules do not apply in Mother Courage and Her Children.
A bleak tale of war, sacrifice and humanity, Brecht’s post-WWII comment on the relentless and self-destructive cruelty of mankind and nations has been dubbed the greatest ‘anti-war’ play ever written. This particular production also includes sex jokes, and a great reel of songs straight out of the dance hall (‘20s, not Jamaican).
The combination, as Brecht would be pleased to know, does make you sit up and think; Mother Courage isn’t just a 17th century woman making do by selling wares from the back of a wagon with her three children. She’s Gaffs post-license loss. She’s your mum feeding you mayonnaise sandwiches for that entire shitty week after rent’s due but before payday. She’s Alan Sugar before he discovered computers (or whatever it is he did). Whoever; what I’m trying to say is she’s contemporary struggle in the face of social, financial and moral adversity.
Eve Polycarpou’s ‘tough Northern lass’ Mother Courage drags the metaphorical and literal wagon of juggling family, work and self – and though there’s no war at home today, her anxious but resolute sacrifices made for kids, money and love are all the more poignant for the familiarity she conveys them with.
Another heart of the play’s representative power lies in its conscious transcendence of generally accepted time boundaries. Aside from its length (three and a half HOURS), its context is the Thirty Year War, a pointless and inexplicably long 17th century conflict.
Between Brecht’s script, Tony Kushner’s translation and Chris Honer’s staging, contemporary and anachronistic effects are deliberately juxtaposed – one minute we’re in a 17th century village shouting the c-word at women, then we’re reading scene cue-cards on an LED display with the drone of helicopters in battle overhead, before hearing talk of peasants and cannons whilst Natalie Grady’s brilliant Yvette the prostitute saunters about in the powders and puffs of the 19th century English ‘loose woman’.
But cannons and cabaret aside, what really comes out through some beautiful and haunting performances (of a mute daughter and roguish chef in particular, as well as the others mentioned) is the extent to which, off the battlefield, human relationships are taken as the inevitable collateral casualties of war and capitalism. The effect is one that traverses time and place, settling disturbingly in our own and making you feel really, really crap about the world and the government, so make sure you’ve got enough money for a pint or five afterwards.
Three and a half stars out of five