Mother Courage (4 stars)

Brunton Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 28 Oct, then touring


In 2005 war profiteer David H Brooks made headlines when he splashed out $10 million on a party for his daughter. Several months later his company, a supplier of body armour to the American military, was subject to investigation by the Departments of Justice and Defense - the small matter of some defective bullet proof vests. Such hypocrisy and greed pervading the industrial-military complex is at the heart of Brecht’s play.

Peter Clerke’s energetic production develops Brecht’s themes of war, gender, and class, making the connection between personal choice and the price of survival. As we watch the rise and fall of the eponymous heroine of the title (Catherine Gillard), the opportunist who makes her living from selling food, alcohol and other commodities to the troops, we increasingly question the society that produced her, and us.

An adaptable cast move in an historical world resonating with our present, whilst striking the careful balance between emotional investment and estrangement. Morality is the dominant theme where corrupt times breed greed and suppress virtue. Mother Courage’s financial investments in the war prove to be in vain as one by one she loses her children to the atrocities of conflict. As the play progresses, its setting gradually shifts forward in time - medieval soldiers eventually become modern US soldiers - thus rendering all the more powerful the parallels with today’s political situation. Gordon Davidson’s faithfully Brechtian design centers on the iconic cart. Decrepit and heavy, it begins as a secure home but eventually becomes a painful burden. Against Steve Kettley’s inspired and imaginative score, Benchtours latest production succeeds in proving the continuing relevance of Brecht’s epic masterpiece.

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