8 Nov

Mother Courage and her children
By Bertolt Brecht, translated by Tony Kushner
Southwark Playhouse
Josie Lawrence plays the eponymous role heading the cast in this three hour long production of this anti-war epic. Brecht wrote it while in Scandinavia escaping Nazi Germany during the invasion of Poland, and it prophesised the events of the second world war, offering a warning that war doesn’t ever end. Though written before the war it was not produced in Germany until 1949 when Brecht founded the Berliner Ensemble
Set during the thirty years war in seventeenth century Germany, it tells how history repeats itself, This is not so much a play about characters as about issues and the reaction not only the war but also the peace has on people. The chaplain played by David Shelley must eventually abandon his calling to survive, helping Courage in her attempts to save her life and those of her children by any means fair or foul.
Mother Courage is a pedlar selling goods to the army. She travels in a cart pulled along by her two songs Eilif and Swiss Cheese. She has three children all with, different fathers. Her daughter, Kattrin beautifully played by Phoebe Vigor is dumb due to a traumatic experience with a solder when she was a child. The two boys are anxious to become heroes and want to join up much to their mother’s distress.
The music is very suitable and could easily have been written by Kurt Weill – but it was by Duke Special and it is wonderfully evocative as the songs are sung, groaned, or screamed appropriately by the actors.
Laura Checkley as the prostitute Yvette has a wonderful voice with much power and is a true audience pleaser. Ben Fox enjoys himself and is very funny as the predatory cook. But it is Josie Lawrence who dominates every aspect of this production with her passion and indomitable humour. She has enormous energy resonance and sensibility and gives a haunting performance. Never asking for our sympathy, but doing what she must do to survive the war – and the peace – with her enormous strength of character and ability to adapt to any situation.
However, despite the work of the well-chosen cast, this is not a completely successful production. The costumes display a kind of confusion about the century they are supposed to be in. (In some cases, the nineteen fifties?). The sound is in no way perfect, quite a lot of the dialogue is muffled and for some reason there are several important scenes played up high on a balcony behind half of the audience. So, the whole audience on the left-hand side either have to twist themselves round and stretch their necks to look upwards – very painful – or like most of them, give up and wait for the next scene on the conventional playing area.
This is such a shame as Lawrence’s performance deserves something better.

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