Mother Courage, 3***, London

by Bertolt Brecht.
Translated by Tony Kushner.
Music by Duke Special.

Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 9 December 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Tues & Sat 3pm.
Runs 3 hours One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: William Russell 6 November.

A hyena of the battlefield
Josie Lawrence, probably best known as a funny lady on television, demonstrates here, as she has done before, that she is an actress of power and imagination. Her Mother Courage, the woman who followed the troops during the Thirty Years War selling them comforts carried in a cart pulled by her children, is a beautifully imagined and executed performance and because of her the production really deserves that missing extra star. It is not there because director Hannah Chissick, while she gets good performances from her cast and stages much of the action effectively, has made a cardinal and devastating error. It is fine to stage the play in traverse fashion. That is a set up in which the audience sit on opposite sides of the acting area, a kind of passage between the spectators.

It involves a lot of turning round, which can be a problem, but when it works it can also create a wonderfully absorbing atmosphere. But what you do not in any circumstances do is set some of the action on an elevated walk way at the back of one side of the theatre so that half the audience has no idea what is going on when disembodied voices start shouting above their heads. The result is confusion and distracting head turning which destroys the on stage action.

The acoustics in the format designer Barney George has created are also defective, not usually a complaint in this theatre, so that some of what is said is inaudible, and director Chissick has encouraged rather a lot of shouting by the actors who drown their words out. But that said, Ms Lawrence is magnificent and she get strong support especially from Julian Moore-Cook as her naïve son Swiss Cheese and Phoebe Vigor as Kattrin, her mute daughter.
The play remains as enigmatic as ever. It is about the horrors of war, and Courage is capitalism benefiting from war as she carries out her business selling to soldiers. Wars, it is accepted or at least traditional wars, tended to benefit big business as there are things to be made, things to be sold, deals to strike. On the other hand wars do destroy people, society, and the places where they live. As for Courage, she is cruel, loving, pig headed, making the best of what is a bad job as best she can, a hyena, as she is called at one point, and a survivor. Go see it for the indomitable Ms Lawrence and the cast.

Yvette: Laura Checkley.
The General: Ivy Corbin.
The Army Recruiter: Celeste de Veazey.
The Other Sergeant: Rosalind Ford.
The Cook: Ben Fox.
The Farmer’s Son: Shiv Jalota.
Mother Courage: Josie Lawrence.
Swiss Cheese: Julian Moore-Cook.
Eilif: Jake Phillips Head.
The Sergeant: Nuna Queimado.
The Chaplain: David Shelley.
Kattrin: Phoebe Vigor.

Director: Hannah Chissick.
Set & Costume Designer: Barney George.
Lighting Designer: Robbie Butler.
Sound Designer: Patrick Ball
Musical Supervisor & Arranger: David Randall.

2017-11-07 09:44:48

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