Wednesday 8 November 2017

Mother Courage and her Children - Review

Southwark Playhouse, London


Written by Bertolt Brecht in a translation by Tony Kushner
Directed by Hannah Chissick

Josie Lawrence

Mother Courage and her Children is often dubbed one of the best anti-war plays of all time and it isn’t difficult to see why as this ambitious revival at the Southwark Playhouse sees Josie Lawrence storm her way through Tony Kushner’s translation with a vigour.

Hannah Chissick, inspired by the recent war debate, directs with the simplicity and audacity that Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre demands. The talented singers are utilised well to emphasise the play’s themes (war is never ending, brings women to ruin, is never profitable, and is generally no good) with Lawrence’s soulful tones bringing a tear to many an eye. Lawrence, of Who’s Line Is It Anyway fame, is an absolute triumph, embracing the audience on her journey from cocky tradeswoman to a woman that Mother Courage would be ashamed of, so downtrodden is her outlook and situation. 

Mother Courage's trade comes with war as she follows armies across Europe with her simple wagon, selling simple goods alongside her even simpler children, all with different fathers and different difficulties. Along the way, new challenges are faced as battles are won and Generals enjoy the little food available. Her children are Eilif, played by the strapping Jake Phillips Head; Swiss Cheese, charmingly portrayed by the wide eyed Julian Moore-Cook; and Katrin, played by Phoebe Vigor, who blew everyone away with a sensitive portrayal of the metaphorically lost and mute young woman who somehow ends up being the hero of the piece. 

Love interests come in the form of David Shelley’s Chaplain who however dusty is as articulate and as good an orator as his character claims to be, even if his preaching often falls on deaf ears. Rival to The Chaplain is The Cook (Ben Fox), scrappy and cheeky, hinting at his hidden past. Their passion for Mother Courage is matched only by the whore Yvette, whose passion for her trade, red high heels and all, is played Laura Checkley relishing the brass and pantomime of her tragic opportunist. The strong cast is supported by the musical ensemble that includes Rosalind Ford who warms the cockles and Shiv Jalota who embraces this quite possibly unique opportunity to exhibit his beat boxing skills in a Brechtian context. 

It’s quite the experience to follow Mother Courage and her Children. Not an evening of light entertainment, producer Danielle Tarento has created an incredibly thought provoking and intriguing powerhouse of a show.

Runs until 9th December
Reviewed by Heather Deacon
Photo credit: Scott Rylander

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