Mother Courage and her Children: In repertoire to Dec 8

Mother Courage and her Children

Olivier Theatre,
National Theatre,
Upper Ground,
South Bank,
London SE1 9PX

7.30; mats 2pm various (Suns 2.30); see calendar
For Audio-described and Captioned perfs see website: www.nationaltheatre.or.guk

Runs 3 hours 5mins incl 20 min interval

TICKETS 020 7452 3000
In person: Mon– Sat, 9.30am-8pm

Review: by Carole Woddis of performance seen Sept 26, 2009.

More show than substance?
Deborah Warner’s Mother Courage and her Children was scheduled to open on September 16th but was put back nine days to the 25th. Technical hitches were said to be responsible.

I wonder what would Brecht have made of it? Apart from all the brouhaha about his `alienation’ effects the one thing a Brecht production should be able to deliver is a good story, all the more powerful for the simplicity of its telling. Warner and Fiona Shaw managed it in their last NT Brecht production, The Good Person of Sichuan.
This time they’re less successful.

The impact that should come from being shocked out of one’s conventional thinking – that war is good for business with Mother Courage as an arch colluder – is lost in a welter of busyness and Tony Kushner’s extremely wordy adaptation.

Some of Brecht’s scepticism does come across in Warner’s production which is high on noise, intensity and songs by Duke Special that sit somewhere between The Tiger Lilies (of Shockheaded Peter fame), Elton John and Boy George. Duke himself, a diminutive, gamin figure with dreadlocks, sings in a sweet, high tenor voice with a backing group who sometimes launch into stomping hard rock.
By contrast Gary Sefton’s Army sergeant could have come straight off the Baghdad killing fields. A tough nut. Indeed, Tom Pye’s open set invites constant modern day, particularly American imperial, parallels. It’s no coincidence that scenes are announced by a broken voiced Gore Vidal.

In this brutalised world Shaw’s Mother Courage cuts a swashbuckling sardonic figure in sunglasses, boots and wide skirt. Holding the wide circumference of the Olivier stage with ease, she rattles through the catastrophes that befall her – the loss of one son to the army; the torture and death of another for the regimental cashbox she’s keeping safe within her wagon; and the final self sacrificing act of her mute daughter trying to raise the alarm of a village before approaching enemy soldiers.
Brecht’s intention was to show Mother Courage’s survival instincts in a dual light, part survival, part realism, ultimately amoral. It’s a message masked here by entertaining, but far too much frenzied distraction.

All other parts played by members of the company

Songs: Duke Special and the Cast

Duke Special and the Band:
Paul Pilot (guitar)
Ben Castle (saxophone & clarinet)
Jules Maxwell (pianos & organs)
Simon Little (upright bass)
Phil Wilkinson (drums)
Chip Bailey (percussion)
Duke Special (piano)

Director: Deborah Warner
Designer: Tom Pye
Costume Designer: Ruth Myers
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman
Songs: Duke Special
Musicscape: Mel Mercer
Sound Designers: Andrew Bruce & Nick Lidster (for Autograph)
Video Designers: Lysander Ashton & Mark Grimmer (for Fifty-Nine Productions Ltd)
Company Movement: Joyce Henderson

2009-09-30 15:20:13

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