1. A timeless story
Mother Courage is among Brecht’s most famous plays, and has been considered by some to be the greatest play of the 20th century. It attempts to show the dreadfulness of war and the idea that virtues are not rewarded in corrupt times. Whilst set during the Thirty Years’ War, this could be a play about any war and our production certainly explores this idea. At the centre of the play is Mother Courage, played by Eve Polycarpou - a woman actually following the war and determined to profit from it, even if it threatens the safety and lives of her children. She’s a woman of great vitality and strength, and her contradictory, sometimes shocking behaviour, as her tireless wheeler-dealer nature takes over her compassion as a mother, is still incredibly provocative today.
2. The writing
This is a new translation by Oscar and BAFTA-nominated playwright Tony Kushner who most recently wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s highly acclaimed film Lincoln. He brings a real freshness to Brecht’s words and his sharp dialogue and dry humour give it an incredibly modern feel, whilst not losing what Brecht had intended. It’s great to work with writing like this. One of my later scenes is a series of insults to an old lover and Kushner writes a dialogue that ensures I will have a lot of fun playing out this scene. He certainly doesn’t hold back so do expect some strong language!
3. The Music
We have a brand new score for this production by the superb Greg Palmer. It’s a real eclectic mix of musical style to support the notion that the play could be set during any time and at any place. For example, we have some unusual time signatures, reminiscent of Balkan rhythm, that gives it a kind of Eastern European feel. The Cook’s song is a quirky pot-pourri of 1970s prog rock and Bela Bartok, performed with relish by Paul Barnhill. Then there is my personal favourite, "The Chaplain’s Song." This is a Country & Western pastiche that has the feel of an old Bob Dylan ballad performed brilliantly by Johnson Willis and accompanied by a Jew’s harp, harmonica and coconut shells! Yvette’s "Fraternisation Song", which I get to perform, is a quasi-tango piece that has a real cabaret feel to it. It’s enormous fun to perform.
4. The Company
Director Chris Honer has assembled a really talented group of actor-musicians, and as someone who doesn’t come from a musical background, I am astounded daily by the talents of these people. The actors play all the music live throughout and as well as performing the songs, we are playing around 25 characters between us. Tony Hunt, for example, plays eight characters and provides much of the music in the band with his various instruments. The shock on Amelia Donkor’s and my faces, as he picked up yet another instrument, was a picture! Everyone is working very hard and with Chris Honer’s incredibly detailed direction, this promises to be an excellent ensemble production.
5. And it’s very funny!
Yes, it’s a play about war and is at times very shocking and resonant. But don’t be fooled, this is actually a very funny play. The comedy is always surprising and can occur at some of the most serious moments in the play, which I think is very human. Whilst we are in no doubt of Mother Courage’s love and concern for her children, her blunt, uncompromising put-downs of them are hilarious. As the Catholics make an attack in scene three, the cook declares ‘Better get back to my General, if they haven’t shot him, he’ll be screaming for his dinner.’ and my character (the camp prostitute) takes great relish in the attack for her own business gain, exclaiming “Please God, let it be the Catholics!”
Mother Courage and Her Children runs from 22 February - 9 March at the Lowry.