MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN
by Bertolt Brecht translated by Tony Kushner.
The Lowry (Quays Theatre) To 9 March 2013.
Runs 3hr 5min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 February.
A long haul for Everywoman.
Manchester theatre has shown differing attitudes to Bertolt Brecht. In the years before the Berlin Wall fell University-based Contact Theatre explored the canon widely. Contrastingly, Brecht is the major gap in the repertoire at the Royal Exchange.
The Library Theatre has done its bit by Brecht. But this is a big bit to bite-off in the Lowry’s Quays theatre. Nor is it helped by varying quality in the acting. Even individually strong performances, like Paul Barnhill’s Cook, seem to be working in a vacuum.
Between 1618-1648 the Thirty Years War toured back-and-forth round Europe pitting two Christian camps against each other. Catholic and Protestant were tied to political interests, though for the common woman traipsing in the army’s wake to make a living supplying troops, ideals boil down to ensuring your wagon displays the victor-of-the-moment’s flag.
Courage explains this early on – her titular bravery came from desperately dodging bullets to sell food before it went stale. Barnhill’s Cook and Johnson Willis’s Chaplain represent Courage’s closest allies, material and supposedly spiritual respectively.
The character originated over 2½ centuries earlier with German writer Grimmelshausen. Brecht added “und ihre Kinder” (“…and her children”), emphasising that war, like its origins in society, destroys human relationships. Strangely, Courage’s three children here make little impact. Eilif, praised for doing in war what gets him executed in peace, the easygoing Swiss Cheese and speechless Kattrin whose eventual drumming is the play’s sole selfless act make little impression. It’s hard to believe Kattrin’s attempts would wake a town about to be attacked by soldiers; the scene is unusually subdued.
Between them the major impact comes from Eve Polycarpou’s Courage, forced to deny her son’s corpse. Yet while Chris Honer’s production has the clarity over detail that’s usual in his work, the rather schematised silence, blackouts and sudden images border between being moving and seeming contrived. Brecht’s famous ‘alienation’ (neatly seen in the modern handheld microphones used for songs) is about new focuses of emphasis, not loss of energy.
Throughout, Polycarpou suggests resilience, worldly (and streetwise) experience and tough intelligence. Her first-rate performance pulls the show’s trundling vehicle forward.
Cook: Paul Barnhill.
Eilif/Colonel/Farmer’s Son: Rob Compton.
Kattrin: Amelia Donkor.
Yvette: Natalie Grady.
Sergeant/General/The One with the Reye-Patch/Young Sergeant/Farmer/Soldier/Young Man: Anthony Hunt.
Quartermaster/Older Soldier/Soldier/Regimental Secretary/Farmer: Greg Palmer.
Mother Courage: Eve Polycarpou.
Swiss Cheese/Soldier: Kenny Thompson.
Army Recruiter/Sergeant/Clerk/Old Woman/Farmer’s Wife: Susannah van den Bergh.
Chaplain/Lieutenant: Johnson Willis.
Soldier/Serving Man3rd Soldier: Alex Bennett.
Soldier/2nd Soldier: Ben Boskovic.
Director: Chris Honer.
Designer: Judith Croft.
Lighting: Nick Richings.
Sound: Paul Gregory.
Composer/Musical Director: Greg Palmer
Fight director: Renny Krupinski.
Assistant director: Harry Mackrill.