Mother Courage and Her Children
Theatre Editor AMI JONES is left devastated by this production. And no, not in a good way.
ADC, January 31st – February 4th, 7.45pm, £6-10
Directed by Nikki Moss
This show was, above all, a waste. A waste of one of the greatest scripts of the 20th century. A waste of some of what I know are Cambridge’s choicest actors. A waste of some talented musicians. And a waste, I assume, of a hefty chunk of ADC resources.
But before I dive into my attack, I will say one thing. And that is the tremendous respect I have for Nikki Moss in mounting this gargantuan production. Putting on a Brecht is one of the biggest challenges a director can set themselves, which is partly why rating this show wasn’t easy. Yes, there was talent onstage both theatrical and musical, and it was plain to see. But when measured up to the standards which this very production had set for itself, it fell depressingly short.
And that brings us to the first problem: it wasn’t Brecht. I couldn’t really work out what Moss wanted with the production. Megan Roberts has proven herself more than just capable in previous performances, but her Mother Courage was disappointingly bland. And I had a suspicion it wasn’t her fault. If Moss was aiming for a naturalistic performance, she failed – I didn’t believe for a second that this was a toughened mother of three children capable of making cut-throat deals in the midst of ravaging war. If she was aiming for good-and-honest Brecht, well, she failed even more. The acting wasn’t naturalistic, wasn’t stylised, wasn’t even in-between. It was just undefined and confused.
The whole production had the nasty flavour of a flashy Broadway musical. Alistair Cannon is an able composer, but his skills were again applied inappropriately. Pink light flooded the stage along with sad soulful violin when Jennie King’s prostitue sang about a lost love. Wrong. As anyone who even paid attention in the first five minutes of their Brecht unit will know. Brechtian songs are not meant to be tuneful interludes; they are bursts of raw, direct poetry.
The sound levels were appalling, meaning what should have been the most important feature of the songs – the lyrics – was simply obliterated. I literally couldn’t hear a word with a nine-piece band blaring. Why was there even a nine-piece band? Yes, there are many able musicians in Cambridge, but that doesn’t mean you can just ram as many as you can onto a stage. Admittedly, this is an issue easily solved and I hope the show will at least gain audibility and slickness as it goes on.
One of the few parts which made me sit up was the “Song of Solomon”, where Max Upton as the Cook came right upstage and just hollered his lyrics into the audience, raw and punchy. This is more like it, I thought. And I can fucking hear the words. Unfortunately I was later informed that it was entirely accidental: the actor’s mic broke and he’d had to improvise on the spot. Oh well. Keep it in, I say.
I also saw tantalising flashes of stylish acting and real pathos in James Bloor and Kat Griffiths as two of the children, Swiss Cheese and Kattrin, but it was sadly unable to develop into something more.
I was promised “a story that is utterly beautiful and utterly devastating.” Well, I guess one of those turned out to be true.