Review: Mother Courage and her Children, National Theatre

Mother Courage and her Children sees Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner reunited once again at the National Theatre as part of the Travelex £10 season. Brecht’s play of a woman who is determined to make a profit from the war that surrounds her, even as that same war takes her children from her one by one, has been freshly translated by Tony Kushner and Warner has utilised the vast space of the Olivier to great effect to create something quite unique.

It is a fairly lengthy beast, the first half alone is two hours long, but neither I nor my companion felt that it dragged at all, I found the songs kept it quite pacey, and felt much the same during the second half (a mere hour long). There wasn’t that high a level of dropout after the interval which was quite nice to see and there was a strong reception for the players at the end. Much has been made of the introduction of Duke Special and his band but I have to say I thought by and large it worked. Personally, I was not as keen on the rockier numbers, despite Shaw gamely rocking out, but was genuinely moved by some of the slower numbers, especially when he was duetting with other characters.

Fiona Shaw is excellent as the titular Mother Courage, dominating the stage with her very presence, and she is onstage for the vast majority of the play. She has a great physicality in the role, culminating in her dragging her cart around by herself, and she was clearly having a ball onstage. Stephen Kennedy as the Chaplain was very good, all the more so, given that he was a late addition to the cast, replacing someone else. He ought to pull his trousers up though, I may have been entirely clear on when the play was meant to be set, but I’m pretty sure 2(x)ist underpants weren’t around in them days and we saw an awful lot of them! Sophie Stone as the mute Kattrin is also impressive with an expressive, nuanced physical performance which Harry Melling (Swiss Cheese) might do well to take a little note of, his array of tics and twitches felt a little gratuitous at times.

As this was a preview, most things could be forgiven, there does need to be some considerable work on maintaining good sound levels but I am sure things are in hand. Otherwise I would say at a tenner, this is well worth a evening of your time.

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