Arts & Entertainment

Review: Mother Courage and Her Children

Belvoir’s interpretation of one of Bertolt Brecht’s most widely-staged shows, Mother Courage and Her Children (1941), is a lively, episodic depiction of wartime society, hedonism and profiteering.
Set during a longtime conflict somewhere in Northern Europe during the 30-year War (early 17th century), the specifics of the politics are basically incomprehensible to the people who suffer the most from them. Eamon Flack’s direction, and new translation by Michael Gow, somewhat modify the original to point of contemporary global affairs.
Mother Courage (no father in sight) sings and dances to protect her children and her own interests in a never-ending war. In Brecht’s original tale, Mother Courage was a vicious character who used her children as little pennies on her way to advance herself. They trail after battles, trudging along a cart filled with brandy and other scant essentials. Courage however is also doing her best to shield her children from the worst of war.
But good choices are in short supply, and her titular courage is slowly eroded as allegiances slip as a happy but temporary peace erupts. In this staging, Mother Courage is a bit softer, and not as cynical in her use of her own children. Musical interludes spruce up an essentially terrible tale.
Robyn Nevin is forceful as Mother Courage, wearing a daggy outfit resembling a caravan park host rather than a seventeenth-century war profiteer, but it works. With her droll delivery and elfin mischievousness, she dominates the show. The excellent supporting cast includes her children, the brave Elif (Richard Pyros), the honest but stupid Swiss Cheese (Tom Conroy) and Kattrin (Emele Ugavule), the truth-bearer who cannot speak. Anthony Phelan is a standout chaplain with little faith other than his own survival, and Paula Arundell as a wily camp-follower can be a show-stopper.
Until July 26, Belvoir Theatre, 18 – 25 Belvoir Street Surry Hills, $39-$72,, 9699 3444.

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