Thomas W. Hodgkinson

Mother Courage and Her Children

By Berthold Brecht
Royal Exchange, Manchester

The trouble with Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation effect” is that it can be pretty alienating. In this energetic production of his antiwar musical drama, we get cardboard placards, narration by random cast members and auditorium lights left on. Which is all fine, as long as, among the lectures, there are bits that hit home. Of those there were precious few in the first half, as Mother Courage (Julie Hesmondhalgh) drags her mobile stall, and children from various fathers, through a contemporary European war zone, selling ice creams and grenades, and losing her brood one by one. The cast seemed tentative in the songs. Hesmondhalgh is too likeable. Only Rose Ayling-Ellis wholly inhabits her role, as Courage’s mute daughter Kattrin. But anyone who sees this should resist the temptation to make an early Brecht-sit. The second half is stronger, convincing one that, although the heroine may not be much of a mother, she is at least courageous.