Often described as one of the greatest anti-war plays, Bertolt Brecht’s epic story, Mother Courage and Her Children, is a landmark production for the Queensland Theatre Company and our First Nation’s people in a masterful re-interpretation featuring an all-Indigenous cast.
Penned in the early days of World War II in 1939, Brecht’s morality tale about the ravishes of war is transported to a dystopian future, set against the landscape of a ravaged Australian outback from the impact of mining, human greed, and rivalling factions within. Here, parallel themes of land ownership, the impact of mining and the stolen generation are insightfully explored through the text.
The story follows Mother Courage (Ursula Yovich), as she drags around her Mad Max – like junkyard ute converted into a canteen-wagon through thirty years of war. A figurative storm-chaser, Courage along with her children Eilif (Luke Carroll), Swiss Cheese (Eliah Watego), and Kattrin (Chenoa Deemal), navigate the moral ambiguity of profiteering from the war for their survival.
Translated by QTC Artistic Director Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski into English slang and Aboriginal English, (more specifically the language spoken in Minjeeriba in North Stradbroke Island), the program provides a helpful glossary which provided the answer as to why only the clued in folks in the audience were giggling every time the prostitute Yvette (Roxanne McDonald) called her beau ‘badu’ (look it up and you will giggle too).
It is a stroke of genius and insight on behalf of Director Wesley Enoch to parallel this morality tale and the Brechtian Epic style of theatre with the indigenous tradition of narrated story-telling, and song to create the alienation effect to force the audience to critically reflect throughout the performance upon its social and political meaning.
A device carried through out the production design, with the bare set design (Christina Smith ) included missing curtains wings, exposing the sides of the stage and the main drop curtain replaced by a wall of galvanised iron, and beautiful lighting design (Ben Hughes) in which the word ‘Courage’ glittered in gold in the background, juxtaposing the war zone wasteland beneath.
Composer and Musical Director John Rodgers extended the dialectical theatrical device by mixing traditional indigenous sounds with rap and rock arrangements, which punctuated the story and showcased the vocal prowess of many of the cast members.
Ursula Yovich as Mother Courage gives a powerhouse performance as equal parts protector and profiteer. Her singing voice soars and her stage presence is magnetic.
The spiritually irreverent Chaplain played by David Page, was enjoyable to watch, as was the Cook with questionable motives played by Michael Tuahine.
The all-indigenous cast aptly included a mix of seasoned performers as well as emerging artists, which meant the act of theatre making it self integrated the tradition of passing the theatrical lantern down the generations into the production.
Mother Courage and Her Children was at the Playhouse Theatre, QPAC until 16 June – those lucky enough to see it have witnessed an important work of national significance.