Wednesday 16 September 2009

Mother Courage and Her Children @ the National

Fiona Shaw swaggers magnificently through the first half of Deborah Warner’s thrillingly messy production of Mother Courage and Her Children, which opens (a few days later than scheduled, due to tech hitches) at the National Theatre this month. Warner loves stage detritus and her scattergun approach has a certain grandeur to it; it’s far more effective here than it has been in some of her staging of classical drama. There’s a sense of experiment and danger to a Warner production; you’re never sure what might get thrown at you next. (Literally so, if you happen to be occupying the front row.) Seventy years on, Brecht’s great play of war, profit and loss retains its power, its “relevance.” For this production, Tony Kushner contributes a lithe if tediously profane translation, while the songs of Duke Special (who mingles with the actors throughout the evening, sometimes duetting with them) bring added energy and soul to the piece - this in a play in which the heroine declares “I have no soul.” And dig Gore Vidal's deeply sinister-sounding narration! But Shaw’s the star of the show, honouring every step of Mother Courage’s journey with skill and intelligence. The cart here is an extension of Mother Courage’s physical and emotional being. At the beginning she rises triumphantly out of the Olivier stage upon it; by the end, she’s a stooped figure, effortfully dragging it alone. We see what war hath wrought.

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