Queensland Theatre Company’s production of Mother Courage and Her Children is an inspired and Indigenous Australian reimagining of Bertolt Brecht’s classic tale of the tragedy of war and the blurring of moral lines for the ordinary people who must survive its brutality. What separates this staging from any other and will deservedly be the reason it’s bound to not only receive national but also hopefully international acclaim, is the way it’s been retold. QTC’s production features an all Indigenous cast and the setting has been contemporised by propelling the story into the future and placing it in a post-apocalyptic Australia that has been ravaged by the effects of mining. The characters at the heart of this story are the First Nation People and their struggle to eke out an existence in a world where resources are scarce, the government has been over turned and the war is fought by armies that are spawned out of greedy factions within the mining companies.
It was like witnessing a master class in the staging of Epic Theatre for contemporary audiences. Brechtian theatre is known for its ability to act as a forum for political commentary, and while intellectually stimulating, this kind of theatre can have the potential to become too heavy in its staging and messages. QTC’s Artistic Director Wesley Enoch’s realisation of Mother Courage was a brilliant balance of just the right amount of humour and pathos. The issues are meaty and thought provocative without being slammed in your face. They are presented in a way that you’d swear that Brecht must have had predictive knowledge of the parallels between the people under Nazi Germany and the numerous challenges Indigenous Australians have been forced to face. The loss of their land, the loss of their children and the tension that arises from the reality of living in a system they need to work with while staying true to their spiritual beliefs. This new translation and production is a testament to the creative vision and unique insight of Enoch, Nazarski and the creative team that supported this production in combination with Brecht’s genius.
The play is translated by Paula Nazarski and Wesley Enoch and is filled with the rich and colourful language that is a mixture of Aussie Slang and Aboriginal English. What a glorious experience it was for a non-indigenous audience member to be on the outside of the dialect, like a visitor to an overseas country with a foreign phrase book where you read for a translation after the conversation. You grin widely because you had an idea what was being referred to in the dialogue but you had to check again to make sure you got the joke. A lot of the colloquialisms are well known but for some, many of the words will be a first to their ears, which makes for a very welcome change while experiencing a production of these proportions on a mainstream Australian stage.
Powerful performances were given by many of the cast made up of both emerging and seasoned artists. Ursula Yovich is Mother Courage and is a delight to watch on stage. Yovich acts as the connective tissue for the ensemble and her presence is always known but never overshadows. Fine performances were also given by Luke Carroll as Eilif and David Page as the Chaplain. Live music was the soundtrack for the majority of the performance and many of the show’s musical numbers, composed and directed by Musical Director John Rodgers, were definitely amongst many of the ‘deadlier’, more entertaining and moving highlights of the evening.
Mother Courage’s wagon, by Designer Christina Smith, was a pure piece of ‘Mad Max’esk’ recycled junk yard art on wheels. The set design by Smith, along with the lighting by Ben Hughs, added to many of the fantastical and wonderful visual elements in the performance, which included iconic corrugated iron and giant sized suspended ore and rocks that resembled something from the celestial sky.
Queensland Theatre Company’s Mother Courage and Her Children is a not to be missed landmark production. It is entertaining and thought provoking theatre that will resonate with all and will be remembered long after its final curtain call on the Playhouse stage in Brisbane.
Queensland Theatre Company and Queensland Performing Arts Centre present
Mother Courage and Her Children
by Bertolt Brecht | translated by Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski
Director Wesley Enoch
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Dates: 25 May – 16 June, 2013
Tickets: $45 – $80