When I first heard about Queensland Theatre Company's latest and greatest production Mother Courage, taking place at the QPAC Playhouse, I felt slightly baffled. I knew that Brecht wrote this particular play and I recalled (from high school drama class) that he was a somewhat obscure German playwright who wrote in an untraditional manner and always endorsed a strong message, normally of a political note. But I was baffled, more so, because I found out this very political German play had been adapted to be indigenous in nature; a very interesting choice indeed. So I figured things could go either way but I went in with an open mind and I wasn't disappointed.
When you take your seat the first thing you'll notice is that this is no traditional stage production. There is no traditional black curtain but instead a big rusted iron curtain. You can also see straight into the wings of the Playhouse, which I admit was awkward at first as you can see all the stage props, actors in waiting and all those bits you normally don't, and do not, want to see. However as the play progresses this behind the scenes view feels somewhat natural for this unique production.
Mother Courage was first written in 1939 and is a political drama set on the battleground of the Thirty Years' War in Germany and Poland. The new creative rendition by Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia where the 'government is lost and human greed takes the form of mining armies'. Overall the script adaptation seems to maintain a nice balance of humour, music and dramatic tension (please note there is some swearing). The play is structured into 12 scenes and each scene is described before it is played out (in total Brecht style). It is throughout these scenes whereby we follow Mother Courage, a feisty canteen woman, and her clan as she profiteers and overcomes all the odds brought about by the wilderness of war.
The sets are minimal and of a rusty, earthy feel. Although minimal each set has a strong purpose (you need to think beyond the prop always) and this effectively, and quite cleverly, aids in both the creation of the desired post apocalyptic setting. The central prop is a stripped down ute, which is missing its front wheels and is basically a primitive home/canteen on wheels. It is a device for scene transitions (often involving meaningful music scenes) and is set up differently in each scene so that things never get old and stay interesting and fresh. Additionally, there is a strong use of warm, yellow lighting, which really created this heavy, war torn mood.
Mother Courage and her clan (courtesy of actorsgreenroom.net)
The cast were all in top form. Ursula Yovich as Mother Courage has the most beautiful voice and delivers a convincing and powerful performance. Her children are played by Luke Carroll (Eilif), Chenoa Deemal (Kattrin) and Eliah Watego (Swiss Cheese). The remaining ensemble, many of whom played multiple roles fluidly, is comprised of George Bostock, Roxanne McDonald, Dave Dow, Paula Nazarski, David Page, Robert Preston and Michael Tuahine.
There is a real mixture of ages amongst the group, but the strong character development, along with the natural chemistry amongst the actors, unified the group and allowed them to deliver a powerful and believable performance. And this is certainly no easy task for a troupe of indigenous performers acting out a German play, which was translated to English and then to Indigenous slang (there is a glossary in the program). It is a big feat and yet somehow it works brilliantly.
True, this production is not your average show and it is a long one (almost 3 hrs including intermission). But it is certainly unique and if you are able to open your mind and look beneath the surface it is a show that will leave you with many clever thoughts to ponder on. So if you're up for a piece of theatre with some real weight and depth, get in quick because it is finishing up on Sunday 16 June. It is well worth the effort after all, for if it is one thing above all else it is completely unforgettable. Not a bad feat in my opinion.