A production of a Bertolt Brecht drama that is utterly approachable may sound unlikely, but that's just what Shared Experience and Lee Hall, the exciting young playwright who can do no wrong at the moment, have given the theatre world. Hall and director Nancy Meckler have managed to dispense with Brecht's patronising air whilst retaining the power of the anti-war epic.
But, while Hall also forefronts some Dad's Army-style comedy and some hilarious and vulgar colloquialisms, and Phuong Nguyen's fine accordion playing keeps, for some reason, reminding me of 'Allo 'Allo, the night really belongs to the talented Kathryn Hunter. Old alienation master Brecht would be less than thrilled to know that you can't help being moved by Hunter's Mother Courage. Hunter is quite simply amazing as the profiteering, cart-pulling, child-protector who sees her three children die one by one during the Thirty Years War that the play chronicles. I'm not one to gush, over-hype and acclaim actors unnecessarily, but if this isn't a stellar performance, then I don't know what is.
Hunter is aided by a fine supporting ensemble that includes Hayley Carmichael (who's engrossing as mute daughter Kattrin), Francis Lee (gormless son Swiss Cheese), Marcello Magni (comedy Cook) and Rachel Sanders (Yvette). The sense of fun is furthered as David Fielder, Clive Mendus and Simon Walter draw heavily on the past television antics of Captain Mainwaring and Private Pike for their battle skills. Three hours in a theatre seat could have been unbearable, even without the Brecht ingredient, but the stage direction keeps everything moving at a heady pace.
This is not as flippant a production as it may sound - Hall has obviously realised that the best way to make people 'think' about the tragedy of war is to make them laugh. In doing so, he injects a real and often absent vitality into Brecht's work and gets more to the point than most. As a man in the seat in front proclaimed during the tumultuous applause, 'That was powerful. That was entertaining. That was theatre.' My God he was right.