Mother Courage and her Audience.

Mother Courage and Her Children
Walker Theatre
23/11/12

A packed auditorium of mostly students gathered at The Walker Theatre for a master class in Contemporary and Brechtian theatre. They had come to see Blackeyed Theatre in conjunction with South Hill Park in Lee Hall’s translation of the classic Brechtian theatre piece, Mother Courage and Her Children.

Adhering to ever Brechtian convention of songs, signs, the breaking down of the fourth wall and the alienation technique, the group gave the most honest and most powerful use of this style of theatre, to question the morals and ethics of warfare.

But what is Brechtian Theatre and does it have a place in this modern comfortable Western World? That is not an unreasonable question to ask in the 21st century but if one bares in mind the context in which Brecht was writing it isn’t difficult to see its relevance today. This point was made skilfully by the company bringing it out of the 17th century and placing the story in a mildly futuristic world. The whole piece had a feeling of a post apocalyptic world and was yet only set around forty years from now. Scary stuff.  The message was very clear that somewhere in the world there is always a post apocalyptic place. It’s what we do as a species and leave little choice for the people there other than to adapt - to get through.  More importantly, you never know: one day it might be us.

The importance of contextualising Brecht makes the whole play even more poignant. Bertolt Brecht had to escape the Nazis as part of Hitler’s drive against subversity; consequently his war days were spent in the USA writing adverts. However inside were the thoughts of the smouldering cauldron that he had left behind and more so its despotic leader and the blind stupidity of the majority that went along with every one of his plans. Some say Mother Courage is Brecht’s definitive comment on war. It could be argued however that Fear and Misery in the Third Reich is more likely the to be the one.

That notwithstanding, the message of this piece is a potent one and to see the working of a piece of Brechtian Theatre is a very real treat for theatre aficionados.

Maybe this is the sort of theatre that people are more likely to shy away from. It is highly challenging and after all we do live in a relatively comfortable society that gives us the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. So why should we concern ourselves with such messages? Maybe that’s true at the moment, but as history has proved beyond doubt, things change rapidly either through warfare or the results of warfare.

So what of the presentation itself? Blackeyed Theatre have been together for eight years and have earned the reputation of one of the most hard hitting contemporary theatre companies working on the touring circuit. They were skilful, committed and talented. On the down side the music was noisy and aggressive, as war is, and that again was by design. The job tonight was to get the message across. However, the use of profanities was possibly gratuitous and the characters were wholly unlikeable which makes the piece and the people harder to identify with. Running through the play there were montages on white screen made up of images of death and war. Was it necessary to show the actual death of a soldier? That was an unsolicited piece of horror that rather like Clockwork Orange was force fed onto the audience. Quite a lot of the populus would have a problem with that image and whilst theatre is a powerful tool of the people to use such an image of a man actually dying is possibly one step too far. Is theatre such an important art form that it can show actual images of death? Probably not. It was perhaps a play aimed at a slightly younger audience.

Whenever people want to challenge modern issues there is a temptation to disproportionately play to the young. They are just a percentage of society and if you lose sight of that you run the risk of losing a large proportion of the people you are playing to. It was shouty, aggressive  and frightening, in fact it was everything Brechtian Theatre should be and the reputation bestowed by former critics is still intact as Blackeyed Theatre have proved they are a justifiably, highly praised company. Theatre Severn is to be highly commended for bringing this piece to us.
 

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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