Mother Courage and Her Children, Royal Exchange Theatre
War on whatever scale, of whatever magnitude, is distilled in all its brutal inhumanity onto the stage in this harrowing new Headlong Theatre adaptation of the Bertolt Brecht classic.
Writer Anna Jordan has placed the story in a distopian future – 2080 – when wars, no, one long continual war, is fought on territory marked out by grid squares in what used to be European countries. Serbia, Romania, Greece, all reduced to grid references.
And this war is fought without ideology, religion or politics at its core, but over resources, food, water; just as we will do if nothing is done (and nothing is being done) about climate change.
There’s no fuel so Mother Courage, in a truly riveting performance by Julie Hesmondhalgh, sells her wares across the battlefields from an old ice-cream wagon, pulled along by her diminishing family. Her fiercely protective loyalty to them doesn’t quite match her capitalist instincts and they die one by one, horribly. Sons Swiss Cheese (Simeon Blake-Hall) and Eilif (Conor Glean), and finally the tragic and mute daughter Kattrin; an outstanding performance here by Rose Ayling-Ellis.
The entire stage team shines under Amy Hodge’s direction: Hedydd Dylan, Colm Gormley, Kevin McMonagle, Tachia Newall, Guy Rhys; and musician Nick Pynn, who helps add a punk rock feel with Jim Fortune’s eclectic compositions. Hesmondhalgh herself calls it “Mad Max meets The Road in design”.
This is not comfortable viewing, though it’s not without considerable humour. But it’s the truths about war that come across most dynamically: survival tips into greed, capitalism feeds war. When near the end there’s a declaration of peace (albeit temporary) Mother Courage is distraught; she’s filled the shelves of her wagon with munitions and no one will want those now.
Once again the Royal Exchange has been prepared to go into dangerously exciting territory. Mother Courage and her Children runs until March 2. www.royalexchange.co.uk / 0161 833 9833