Mother Courage and her Children by Bertolt Brecht. Moonlight directed by Jonathon Thomsen. ANU Arts Centre Drama LabAugust 20 – 28, 2004 (Wed - Sat). Tickets at the door.
I can give an improvement award to this, the second in Moonlight's series of Brecht's plays. The whole cast now have a much better sense of Brecht's epic theatre style than when they performed The Caucasian Chalk Circle some months ago, and the design now includes to good effect projections of the descriptions of each upcoming scene, though not yet the words of the songs, which need to be read as well as heard for Brecht's messages to be clearly understood.
Though Moonlight has a very long way to go to reach even semi-professional standards, and though they may have taken some breach of copyright risks, they are now playing with the play rather than merely playing the play. Taking liberties means that they have achieved much more of the distancing effect that Brecht demands. The result is that the anti-war analysis is presented with considerable strength.
I suspect the cast have surprised themselves, and at times in unscripted moments they showed some self-consciousness. This, of course, is because they are graduates of Theatre Studies at ANU, which has not been developed into a proper professional training course to match Music and Visual Art. Dance at ANU has not even taken the first step. Without training in technique to complement their academic studies, even though these included some practical experience, Moonlighters are unlikely to reach higher standards of performance.
However, they are clearly improving, which I take to be their first objective, and have produced an instructive entertainment which is worth seeing, if only because it is not so often that we can see Brecht's work nowadays.
They face a challenge in presenting The Good Person of Szechwuan in November, a more subtle play than Mother Courage and one influenced by Brecht's brief exposure to the work of the famous Chinese actor Mei Lan-fang. The Chinese setting risks becoming, Brecht noted, a 'mere disguise'. This production will take even more courage, and I look forward to new developments in theatrical craft to build on Mother Courage and her Children.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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