As somebody that spends much more time at the theatre than I do reading about it, my knowledge of things Brechtian (especially Brechtian alienation) are pretty hazy. I do know that alienation is a slight misnomer, as Brecht didn't want to alienate the audience rather he wanted to engage it with his underlying message and not lose itself in spectacle and story. As such he would keep things simple and expose the mechanics of playmaking. Is that right? What I probably should have done is copied the Wikipedia entry on Brechtian Alienation instead of trying to give my own interpretation.
Anyway this production, only a few performances into previews (which have been heavily delayed, I was originally due to see this on the 9th) certainly showed its makings. There was almost always a couple of stage crew hovering at the edges of the set, which may have been because things weren't quite ready but sometimes it looked intentional. Most of he stage was bare, the wings and backstage exposed and scenes were depicted by hand-written descriptions on screens lowered from above. When there was scenery (e.g. when the scene required tents) it was very plain and simple and preponderantly white. The cart, pulled by sons, daughter, chaplain and finally Mother Courage alone, was the only major price of (mobile) scenery, reflecting Mother Courage's varying fortunes, almost always with a covering of white plastic sheeting.
I enjoyed this production although it was probably too scrappy (or not scrappy enough) for some and perhaps its touch may be thought to be too light. I did have a slight problem with Fiona Shaw's portrayal of Mother Courage, I want to be able to say that she was too perky without using as strong a word as perky. Mother Courage has to be, at times, ebullient, witty and feisty which Fiona Shaw was great at, but she also has to be brought low and fight to the last of her energy. I thought that (even as she was exhausted from pulling the heavy cart) she always had something in reserve that would enable her to spring back. Maybe this is intentional, maybe they were taking it gently because of the difficulties that the production has had, it might also be my imagination or my lack of understanding about the play. I'm pretty sure that if it is a problem it will be fixed and I feel a bit awkward about wanting more pain and anguish from Fiona Shaw.
The oddest thing in the production was the promotion of the musician and composer Duke Special. We were constantly told who he was and he was treated almost as an equal to Mother Courage (especially at the curtain call). I quite liked his music and don't have a problem with musicians being integrated into the play but it seemed a bit much. They'll be story behind this and I'll probably have to read about it.
I don't want to color your perception of the play, especially 'cuz I'm in Canada and won't SEE it, but I think what you WANTED to see from Fiona Shaw is exactly the point. I think that what Brecht is trying to point out about Mother Courage is that she is a war profiteer who, despite the loss of all her children, never learns the lesson we all want her to learn.
YOU feel it, in the audience; Mother Courage, on stage, does NOT -- and thus Brecht's desired effect is achieved and the production is more of a success than you consciously realize. Just a little something to chew on ;)
So what are we talking here? Three hours?
3 hours 15mins
Interval 2 hours in
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