Theatre at UBC

Mother Courage and her Children
By Bertholt Brecht Translated by David Hare Directed by Camyar Chai

Dates 8 – 17 March, 2007 Venue the Frederic Wood Theatre Reviewer Jane Penistan

David Hare’s new transcription of this Brecht classic is as unrelenting and alienating as other translations of this work, which have been current in the last fifty odd years. Here, perhaps, the twenty first century language makes the man’s inhumanity to man, which war always escalates, even more horrifying in its modern idiom.

This bleak anti-war play opened at the Frederic Wood Theatre on Thursday night to a full and enthusiastic house. Directed by Camyar Chai, with music composed for this production by Patrick Pennefather, it is a searing comment on the futility and degradation if war.

The large cast is led by Lois Anderson as Mother Courage. Here is a masterful performance by a consummate actor. From start to finish she controls every scene with brash authority and full command. Her songs are strongly delivered, whether inspiring to militarism or defending the modus operandi by which she lives and gives others the means to survive. Ultimately, she is the only survivor, not better, but worse off, than she is at the beginning, but now with the dogged determination of desperation.

As her children, Ira Cooper as her elder son, Eiliff, presents a soldier manqué until he is conscripted by a recruiting squad, becomes a competent soldier, only to meet his death by discovering too late that war and peace are two different disciplines. Swiss Cheese, the younger son (Spencer Atkinson), manages to retain some scraps of humanity, in spite of his conscription as a pay clerk in the itinerant army. Courtney Lancaster’s Kattrin, Mother Courage’s mute daughter, is heartbreaking in her expressive, impeccable, speechless miming. Hers is the sole character whose humanity survives the brutality of belligerence and degradation with courage and compassion. It is in Kattrin that hope for the future of mankind is embodied.

Nick Fontaine is the vacillating priest, hiding his vestments when opportune and voicing his uncertain faith at others. Joanna Rannelli is the local lady of the village who becomes the inevitable camp follower. She returns to her village at the war’s end.

Other members of the large cast play multiple roles as soldiers of all ranks, beggars, thieves and peasants. All the ensemble work here is well rehearsed and precisely, tunefully and rhythmically performed by the company. Pennefather’s musical accompaniment adds greatly to this whole production.

Camyar Chai has given the professional and student cast of Mother Courage and her Children a rare and rewarding opportunity to be part of an outstanding production of a great, seldom performed classic play. It is also a gift to audiences in these uncertain times of overseas wars.

© 2007 Jane Penistan