Mother Courage and Her Children

Bertolt Brecht
Nottingham Playhouse and Touring
(2004)

One of the potentially most exciting initiatives to come out of regional theatre in the past few years is the Eclipse Theatre project, designed to generate more black drama for medium-sized venues.

Last October ten up-and-coming black playwrights were selected to work on new plays which may eventually be performed on some of the leading stages outside London.

Until those productions are ready Eclipse are having to revive existing plays, as they did with their first offering, Errol John's 1957 classic Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.

Coming up with a follow-up was always going to be difficult, as Eclipse was looking for something which would attract large audiences as well as being surprising, challenging and entertaining.

Brecht's anti-fascist propaganda play Mother Courage fits the bill perfectly. Translator and adaptor Oladipo Agboluaje has moved the action from the Thirty Years War to contemporary West Africa. It's topical as conflicts of various kinds are currently taking place in more than 14 different African nations.

Just as in Brecht's original, Mother Courage follows armies, selling the troops provisions from her wagon. One by one she loses her children to the war but won't be separated from the cart which is her livelihood.

Agboluaje has brought the opus bang up to date with references to CNN's cameras covering the war, surfers being able to keep informed of the battles through websites, and ethnic cleansing taking place when the fighting resumes after a ceasefire.

It's also a witty adaptation, with a radio station paying tribute to a general who's been killed by playing his favourite song, Britney Spears' Baby One More Time 24/7 for forty days!

Star of the show is undoubtedly Carmen Munroe. Probably best known as Shirley in the Channel 4 sitcom Desmonds, she is returning to the stage after an absence of 12 years.

Small in stature, she gives a towering performance as Mother Courage, a woman who not only sees her family falling apart but also has to cope with the prospect of the hostilities coming to an end. You feel for her when she utters the line: "Peace will ruin me."

Ashley Miller also gives a superb performance, being totally convincing as the mute daughter Ngozi.

Kevin Golding makes a terrific job of the ebullient Chaplain who gets some of the best lines in the play. He tells some of the soldiers how he "preaches to the perverted".

Josette Bushell-Mingo's direction is clear yet uncluttered although there are occasions when an injection of pace might benefit the production.

Rosa Maggiora's set is simple yet effective, aided in no small way by Philip Gladwell's lighting. Atmospheric music by Akintayo Akinbode sets the scene perfectly while Paul J Medford's choreography is impressive without being overtly physical.

Eclipse have done an outstanding job with Mother Courage which should help enormously to raise the profile of black theatre even more than Moon on a Rainbow Shawl did. The only disappointment was that there were quite a few empty seats on Saturday night; audiences have yet to appreciate fully the merits of companies like Eclipse.

"Mother Courage and her Children" runs until February 21st and then tours to Bristol, Manchester, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Northampton, Ipswich, Mold and Liverpool until April 24th

This production has also been reviewed, less favourably, by Pete Wood at Bristol and by David Chadderton at Manchester

Reviewer: Steve Orme