A short review tonight because I'm knackered, and because the show is still in previews - actually the press night has just been put back a couple of days because of a last-minute cast change. The long-standing creative partnership of actress Fiona Shaw and director Deborah Warner (whose collaboration on Medea was one of the best things I've seen at the theatre) return to the National to take on Mother Courage. Perhaps Brecht's most famous play, Anna Fierling aka Mother Courage travels around Europe wherever the wars are with her cart full of goods, selling at inflated prices to soldiers. But she can't make a living from war without sacrifice, and one by one her three children die.
Tom Pye's set design takes Brechtian staging to its natural extreme with a completely bare Olivier stage (occasionally you can see bits of the All's Well That Ends Well set in the wings) apart from the cart itself and the odd tent - most locations are indicated by a sheet with "Farmhouse" etc scribbled in marker pen. Shaw plays a bit of a rock star version of Courage, even wearing shades to belt out her first song. Again going for a pretty strictly Brechtian interpretation she's not the most emotionally affecting Courage you'll ever see, but brings the disturbing moral ambiguity to the fore. As I mentioned in my lowculture preview, Harry Potter's Dudley, Harry Melling, plays her dimwitted son Swiss Cheese and acquits himself well, although he might want to tone down the facial tics a bit. Duke Special's songs are, if anything, a bit too good - I was tapping my feet to a lot of them which probably wasn't quite the playwright's intention when including songs. But instead we get an added level of verfremdungseffekt as Duke Special sings most of the songs himself, with the characters who are meant to be singing them contributing the occasional line. One problem that will hopefully be ironed out in the remaining previews is the length, as the first half lasts two hours before the interval, after which there were a few empty seats for the second half.
Mother Courage and her Children by Bertolt Brecht in a version by Tony Kushner is booking until the 8th of December at the National Theatre's Olivier.