Posts Tagged ‘Brecht’

The Mother Scoop at More London 01 September 2011

September 3, 2011


Picture from

About the venue and company

These are free shows in a nice little amphitheatre, but there are barriers and you get the back of your hand stamped as you go in–I don’t know why.  You can buy refreshments and programmes and hire cushions.  The programme says SIFT [Steam Industry Free Theatre Ltd] believes that all people, irrespective of age, education, physical ability or ethnic background, should be able to access, and participate in high quality free theatre.  That sounds as though Brecht might have agreed.  The ancient Athenians for their part had a ‘theoric fund’ to allow those who could not pay to attend the theatre, and rather a large portion of the relevant demographic must have appeared in the chorus at one stage or another.

About the play

This 1932 play by Brecht is based on a novel by Maxim Gorky dating from 1906.  The theme is how Pelegea Vlassova an illiterate lower-class woman is drawn into the revolutionary struggle by the activity and imprisonment of her son Pavel and herself becomes a revolutionary activist, realising she must struggle for all sons of all mothers, until she triumphantly if limpingly gets to carry the Red Flag during the October Revolution of 1917.

About this production

So we had the floor of the amphitheatre with a couple of huts in the spirit of the Athenian Greek skene at opposing ends.  It was all done in fine Brechtian style, with voice-overs announcing the scenes, dodgy onstage lighting, marching and songs.  And a red flag the only splash of colour among the black grey and brown. Nicky Goldie gave a commanding performance as Pelagea Vlassova and Alistair Hoyle as her son Pavel sung very well.  I thought the portrayal of the policemen was a bit close to naturalism, and indeed naturalistic stereotype, while there was something ineradicably German about the part of the estate butcher who comes round to supporting the striking estate workers.

Are we meant to take what the text appears to say seriously these days?  This performance seemed to be subjecting it to ironic–if not mocking–scrutiny, which must be the best approach…

Mother Courage National Theatre 30 October

October 31, 2009



Picture from

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.