I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Through the barricades
A garish van is dragged on stage, advertising, "award-winning ice cream." It has clearly been in the wars, but it is a livelihood to its owner – Mother Courage (Julie Hesmondhalgh).
The indomitable Anna Fierling aka Mother Courage aka MC is, to say the least, unsentimental. War to her is a daily reality in which there's always something to sell. During a brief interruption in the Europe-wide conflict, she laments: "Peace, after all this time – I'm ruined."
Julie Hesmondhalgh. Courtesy of the Royal Exchange.
Julie Hesmondhalgh powerfully conveys MC's cynicism (or is it realism?) but also flips from detachment to ferocity when her children are threatened, or they flirt with the firing line (especially mute daughter Kattrin, played by Rose Ayling-Ellis).
Bertolt Brecht's play was originally performed in German-speaking Switzerland, in 1941, a month before he and his family left Helsinki for California. It was set in the seventeenth century. This version, directed by Amy Hodge is set in modern-dress, in Europe, which is falling apart.
Hedydd Dylan. Courtesy of the Royal Exchange.
Brecht's polemical style sometimes makes the characters sound like mouthpieces for his insights and arguments. This can make the characters hard to connect with.
On the other hand, the absence of sentimentality makes the end of the play even more poignant because it does not feel emotionally manipulative.
The play is split into signposted-scenes and most end with a song. These musical numbers range from lullabies to super-charged techno-numbers, depending on the dramatic context. The musical element also helps ensure that the central character does not overwhelm the ensemble.
In addition to Julie Hesmondhalgh's commanding stage-presence, Hedydd Dylan convincingly portrays Yvette. She develops from sex-worker, in MC's employment, to a hardened businesswoman who poses a threat to the (black) market dominance of her 'mentor'.
The songs also complement the artillery fire-dialogue of Anna Jordan new adaptation.
Conor Glean as Eilif. Courtesy of the Royal Exchange
Mother Courage and Her Children is a tribute to the civilians (especially women) whose powers of endurance do not tend to earn any medals. It would no doubt seem horribly relevant in the Yemen and Syria and other contemporary war-zones.
Let us hope it does not become more relevant. To paraphrase Brecht: do not pity the land that has no heroes, pity the lands that needs them.
1973 DDR Stamp commemorating the Berliner Ensemble production. By Hochgeladen und Bearbeitet von --Nightflyer (talk) 20:52, 10 September 2010 (UTC) - Self-scanned, Public Domain,https://commons.wikimedia.org.