“War is just business”, even in the twenty-first century. As Blackeyed Theatre brings Brecht’s anti-war play forward some 400 years, it’s obvious that his challenges are just as relevant today as ever. The Second World War may no longer loom over us, but we have our own evils to tackle; the various Middle Eastern conflicts of the past decade or so are saturated with human rights abuses, the deaths of uncountable innocents, and the profits gathered by arms dealers, re-construction companies, security firms and the financial institutions (and even universities) which invest in such businesses.
There’s no sign of the iconic canvas-covered wagon, replaced instead by a metal truck with serving hatches, while reflective discomfort is achieved with projections of scene summaries and iPod-style playlists, guitars which are pointed as guns, and brash, upbeat songs which never allow us to forget that this is merely acting. The small cast slip between roles with ease, using simple clothing changes as in Georgina Hall’s sublime transformation from harsh-accented solider to simple Kattrin or sassy prostitute Yvette with the striking red leopard-print heels.
Janet Greaves takes on the title role as the undoubted queen of the production. Her Mother Courage is a very credible rough Londoner of a matriarch, the kind of woman that is probably to be found on most council estates in the country: a single mother fiercely guarding her brood from the dangers of the world. JJ Henry gives an excellent performance as the hapless Chaplain, while Jacob Addley’s instant role change between male and female Irish peasant is hilarious.
Blackeyed Theatre’s production is charmingly comical, an impression which unsettles and contrasts with the tragedy of the devastation we witness. The company succeed in forcing the audience to reflect abstractly on this mish mash of a play, casting our eyes on our own reality, our own struggles and conflicts, in a manner Brecht himself would have approved of.
Mother Courage and Her Children was at the Greenwich Theatre until Saturday 13 of October and will tour various theatres in the UK including the Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham, the Civic Theatre in Chelmsford and the Guidhall Theatre in Derby. For more information, visit the Blackeyed Theatre website.