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'It's what Brecht would have wanted'

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: November 22, 2012

  • Mother Courage band

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CCESSIBLE, bang-up-to-date and brimming with dark comedy – an excitingly edgy ver sion of Mother Courage And Her Children comes to the Queen's next week.

Remarkably, the Brecht play, often referred to as "the greatest play of the 20th century", had its English debut at the Barnstaple theatre – then the Queen's Hall – in 1955. Its director and star then was the renowned producer, Joan Littlewood.

This new version, (unlike the original which was set in 17th century Europe during the Thirty Years' War), sees the action taking place in a post-apocalyptic future. Its young cast keenly aware that their chosen presentation might ruffle a few feathers.

"This production doesn't shy away from the brutality of Brecht's writing," said Tristan Pate, one of the young, dynamic cast of Blackeyed Theatre.

"I am aware that potential ly this could put people's backs up a bit but I think that's kind of what Brecht would have wanted."

The company wanted to resist theatrical clichés and have done away with the iconic image of Mother Courage's canvas gypsy-esque wagon (in this version she pulls a burger-style catering trailer and has an online trading presence).

"I would be very interested to find out if it's a success in that respect, if it does have the desired effect and I would be interested to see how that matches up with the original because we've made some quite bold choices with it," says the 24-year-old actor.

Lee Hall (responsible for the screenplays of Billy Elliot, The Pitmen Painters and War Horse) has translated the play giving it a contemporary and cutting wit.

"I think what Lee Hall brings is a very modern, colloquial re-telling of the story," says Tristan, who plays Mother Courage's eldest son, Eilif, an aggressive, arrogant and ambitious young soldier who goes off to war despite his mother's efforts to stop him.

"Lee's made the language very modern but he's really sharpened up the humour in it."

Lee's version sets out to capture an authentic voice for the working man – interestingly many of the cast fell into Northern accents during rehearsals.

"It gets to the heart of the matter," says Tristan. "Lee certainly uses some bad language and is a bit crude at times. Really, though, Brechtian theatre should be quite shocking and it should be making the audience sit up and take notice. I think that this translation really achieves that."

Tristan's head is obviously bursting with Brecht. He talks eloquently about the German playwright – he even played him in the show, I Bertolt Brecht, at the Queen's earlier this year.

In the Mother Courage story two ideologies collide in a conflict that threatens the balance of world power. Its themes are as relevant today as they were in Brecht's time.

The young cast aim to serve up Brecht as they believe he would have intended it: quick playing, quick thinking and a lot of fun. They even intend to touch on bankers' bonuses, the UK's billion pound arms industry and the much vilified "pasty tax".

"It's a very interesting experience as an audience member to come in and watch it and be wrong footed at every turn. If you are a thinking person and are ready to have your opinions challenged, it's definitely something for you to come and see."

Tristan says he would be keen to chat to any audience members who might have seen the play's English debut in North Devon.

"We are going to be at the theatre for a couple days so if people are coming who saw the original, it would be so fascinating to talk to them about about it."

Mother Courage And Her Children is at studio@QT, Queen's Theatre, Barnstaple on Friday, November 30 and Saturday, December 1. Tickets: £15 (adult), £9 (student, young person). Box office: 01271 324242.

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