Mother Courage National Theatre 30 October



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I arrived at my seat to find myself between an older lady who was hunched up trying to escape the sheer noise and two younger ladies excitedly pointing out details to each other.

When it began, it seemed like ‘Mother Courage’ as the ill-starred tour of an (Irish) rock group, with Fiona Shaw as the lead singer.  The pre-interval session proceeded in satisfying session, showing the horror and stupidity of war–Corruption is the human equivalent of God’s love–though Fiona Shaw had an ineradicable well-scrubbed wholesomeness that didn’t really fit the part.  And the voice of Gore Vidal read the scene titles with fitting malignity.

After the interval, I began to feel a little impatient.  Then Courage’s dumb daughter Kattrin banged on a drum to rouse the sleeping inhabitants of Halle to their defence and an extremely noisy machine gun cut her down.  This was the only act of self-realisation in the play and it meant getting people to fight…At the end, Mother Courage was on her own pulling her waggon round in a circle.

And why did Fiona Shaw sound so genteel? At the end, she got a standing audience from about 3/4 of the audience for flogging herself half to death–that’s what we like, someone who gives absolutely everything they can.  Then she announced that there would be a collection in aid of 15 actors’ charities, and burly men wielding white buckets climbed down from the stage and bounded up the stairs to guard the exits.

It was all certainly impressive as an exhibition of what the National can do…But it is not middle-aged Irish actresses who need to be flogged on account of  warmongering.

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