Dull animal endurance is given eloquence and a robust mocking humour in Bertolt Brecht's classic play, Mother Courage and Her Children.
A chronicle of the ThirtyYears War (1618-48), the play was penned in the late 1930s when the storm clouds that precipitated WW II began to amass after twenty years of peace had proffered a global economic depression.
Belvoir's current production begins with a recruiting officer lamenting the lack of fresh cannon fodder when a cart with carnival lights, a kind of mobile convenience store, is brought on stage drawn by two young males. They are Mother Courage's sons, Swiss Cheese and Eilif. Inside the wagon are Mother Courage and her mute daughter, Kattrin. The officer is keen that the boys enlist but their mother is adamantly against their conscription.
A camp follower who makes commerce from conflict, Mother Courage is highly protective of her children, happy for them to engage in her profiteering from conflict but dead set against any of them taking up soldiering.
Robyn Nevin plays Mother Courage with all the world weary cynicism that comes from a life of broken dreams, disappointments and distresses, largely at the hands of men, whose idea of romance is recreation and at first signs of procreation, piss off. Somewhat a larrikin Courage, Nevin is nimble and nifty both physically and vocally, taking to the character like a cat to cream. As Katrinn, Emele Ugavule is heartbreakingly eloquent in her silence, mute but certainly not dumb, the epitome and embodiment of Daughter Courage. In a society where silence allows slaughter to succeed and prevail, her deft portrayal focuses the contrast between being physically mute and morally mute. And as a fellow savvy female survivor of war torn society, Yvette, Paula Arundell, is bold and brassy, giving a Bassey-esque show stopping rendition of The Fraternisation Song.
It's this trio of women who are the core of this production, however sterling support is given by an ensemble made up of Tom Conroy, Lena Cruz, Michael McStay, Alex Menglet, Arky Michael, Anthony Phelan, Richard Pyros and Hazem Shammas.
Production, costume and lighting design by Robert Cousins, Alice Babidge and Benjamin Cisterne respectively, are all suitably Brechtian and work sympathetically together. Michael Gow's translation is reverent and redolent and robustly relevant, ditto Stefan Gregory's score.
One could view Mother Courage and Her Children as a play about pessimism at the precipice of nihilism, but a healthy cynicism saves it from slipping into the abyss. If nothing else, Mother Courage lives up to her name by continuing to live in the maw of war.
Belvoir's current production of Mother Courage and Her Children, with its extant text mentioning holy war conjures more contemporary conflicts and theatres, like the Middle East and the Balkans and Africa, and provokes pondering about politicians and priests. It seems humans have been waging war since time immemorial, and then began staging anti war plays since at least the Greeks. Paradox.
We look and listen but never learn, it seems.
Mother Courage and Her Children
by Bertolt Brecht | translation Michael Gow
Director Eamon Flack
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 6 June - 26 July 2015
Tickets: Full from $72* | Seniors/Industry/Group $62 | Concession $49
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 | belvoir.com.au