Review: Mother Courage and her Children
Josie Lawrence, Jake Phillips Head - Photo: Scott Rylander
Josie Lawrence - Mother Courage
Laura Checkley - Yvette
Ivy Corbin - The General
Celeste de Veazey - The Army Recruiter
Rosalind Ford - The Other Sergeant
Ben Fox - The Cook
Jake Phillips Head - Eilif
Julian Moore-Cook - Swiss Cheese
Shiv Jalota -The Farmer's Son
Nuno Queimado - The Sergeant
David Shelley - The Chaplain
Phoebe Vigor - Kattrin
In a land ravaged by war, Mother Courage pulls her cart with her three children in the wake of the army, trading with soldiers and attempting to make profit from the war.
In Pulitzer Prize-winning Tony Kushner's (Angels in America) translation, Mother Courage remains a timely exploration of displacement, war weariness and invisible enemies.
It mirrored then, as it does now, the growing fear at the ever-advancing threat of terror infiltrating our everyday lives and our desire to protect ourselves and what is ours at any cost.
"War is hell - as it is assumed to be by most people who haven't lived through it, and known to be by nearly everyone who has." - Tony Kushner
Widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, Brecht's Mother Courage And Her Children has been described as the greatest anti-war play of all time.
Mother Courage (admirably played here by Josie Lawrence) has three children - two boys, and a girl who is mute - all from different fathers.
The matriarch is, basically, an entrepreneur, trundling her cart around after the army during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) - one of the most destructive wars in European history - and selling all manner of items to the war-weary soldiers and anyone else who will buy.
The last time I saw this play, written by Bertolt Brecht in 1939, it was playing on the National Theatre's gargantuan Olivier stage and Mother Courage's cart was almost the size of a modern tank, or even larger.
In Hannah Chissick's thoughtful and stimulating production, playing here at Southwark Playhouse, a traverse arrangement - with the two halves of the audience facing each other - leaves relatively little space to parade a large cart - so the vehicle here is symbolic as much as anything.
The production starts with a young boy playing with toy soldiers accompanied by the almost overwhelming noise of the machinery of war in action.
The implication seems to be that humans are an odd lot to allow, even encourage our children to play with the symbols of war which, when set in the context of Brecht's play, seems inhumanly callous and incredulous.
Oddly, some of the action takes place on a raised platform above and behind one half of the audience, meaning that 50% of the spectators have to crane their necks to see what is happening - much of the time I gave up trying as my muscles started to rebel.
Though Mother Courage is essentially a businesswoman, Josie Lawrence avoids the pitfalls of an 'actorly', functional or businesslike portrayal, instead making her character vulnerably human as well as motherly, the kind of woman who might live next door and chat with you over the fence.
Josie Lawrence, Phoebe Vigor - Photo: Scott Rylander
She obviously cares deeply for her children but, nevertheless, bears the ingrained streak of entrepreneurial survival and the conditioning of a woman whose life is dovetailed with war like the joint of an item of furniture - so much so that, even when all her children are dead, she leaves someone else to bury the last of them in order to pursue the army and her customers.
But, in an inspired touch, as she alone is left to pull her cart at the end, her overwhelming maternal pain is clearly and movingly evident as she falters, reaching out to an audience member for halting, momentary support before making her inevitable way back to war and business.
Often described as Brecht's masterpiece and the definitive anti-war play, this version is not so much anti-war but, as Hannah Chissick explains in her programme notes, a discussion of war and it's horrific, dehumanising effects and consequences.
On that level and with compelling, highly watchable performances all-round, this proves a worthy and thought-provoking revival of one of the most renowned dramas from the twentieth century.
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