Mother Courage and Her Children

Leanora Collett
17th Jun 2015

When the lights dim, a lighthearted catchy tune is broadcast through megaphones to the audience. Two young men enter from stage left pulling a red cart, decorated with brightly coloured light bulbs and two megaphones on top. As soon the cart is pulled to centre stage, out jumps Mother Courage barking orders in the harsh voice of an aged woman. Wearing her pink tuckshop lady apron and pink shoes, she begins the show.

Mother Courage and Her Children is a musical production featuring the unlikely story of triumph within disaster. A tale of one woman that is at her best in war, who takes her mismatched family into the battlefields with a cart of goods to sell to the troops.

Robin Nevin stars as Mother Courage and delivers strong dialogue with a witty attitude. Nevin portrays a woman with strong family values who will survive against all odds and plans to profit from the war. She performs alongside ten other actors, some of whom are stronger than others, each playing a valuable role in the world of war and Mother Courage.

The production is set in the Thirty Year War (between 1618 and 1648) that started as a war between the Catholics and The Protestants. The idea that war and chaos was the norm in the 17th Century is strongly reflected in the characterisation of Mother Courage.

I don't doubt that some people will really enjoy this production, but I for one found myself alienated from the story of woman who relishes war and places that burden on her own children. Looking on as a woman sings about death and sells her wares may be confronting to you as it was for me. 

The first half of this 2-hour production is dry; the idea that a woman would take her family into wartime is hard to engage with emotionally. The show is brought to life in the second act with some of the stronger emotional stories shining through.

At first glance, the story in this play seems very appealing and you're not wrong to think that. The performances have merits but failed the break the fourth wall between audience and plot, for which Bertolt Brecht's work is known. Only in the last scenes did this reviewer develop a connection with the characters. 
An eleven strong cast in a modest theatre space like Belvoir is a lot to take in. There are so many subplots and characters, each trying to steal the spotlight. You would credit them for putting their best foot forward, but when they cross that line you loose the real story of desperation and surviving in the chaos.  
There is an argument to be made about the audience projecting and filling the emotional gaps with their own attitudes about war, hardship, family and triumph. When the void is filled with our own hardship, the is the opportunity for the play to draw you closer. You might see it as a representation of your world or it can push you away, a world so far from your own. 
Where do you stand on the ideas of war and family? You might find out by seeing Mother Courage and Her Children. Bearing in mind the weight of wartime stories, the performances are admirable and the true strength of Mother Courage shines through.

Mother Courage and Her Children is on at Belvoir St Theatre until July 26.

By Bertolt Brecht  
Translation Michael Gow
Music Composition Stefan Gregory
Director Eamon Flack

Production image above by Heidrun Lohr.

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25 Belvoir Street
Surry Hills
+61 2 9699 3444