Mother Courage And Her Children

Written by Bertolt Brecht, Adapted by Oladipo Agpoluaje
Liverpool Playhouse, 20-24 April 2004

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Performed by an all black cast, Mother Courage And Her Children, takes place in a war-ravaged West Africa in this new adaptation by Nigerian-born playwright Oladipo Agboluaje.

Although it was written nearly seventy years ago the play still has a contemporary feel about it, particularly when you realise that there are conflicts of various kinds - from full-scale wars to local uprisings and insurgencies - currently taking place in 14 different African nations, but I felt mixed emotions about the play as a whole.

The story centres around the major problems faced by Mother Courage - played majestically by Carmen Munroe - in keeping herself and her three grown-up children fed and clothed while the mayhem of war goes on around them.
She does this mainly through profiteering from the bloody carnage, by selling food and clothing to soldiers from what ever side of the conflict is taking place around her and her family - she does not care about their identity or political allegiance - her main concern is to keep her children alive.
But unfortunately she fails to prevent the killing of her two sons and mute daughter by gunfire in the war-torn land.

There is some modern knock-about humour at times, including references to Manchester United, Jennifer Lopez and Britney Spears, but this comes across as being shallow and banal given the overall nature of the play.

Despite the sterling performance by Munroe, the acting by most of the rest of the supporting cast was less than memorable. For instance, I often found it difficult to decipher what a lot of them were saying or shouting to each other, which spoiled the continuity and focus of the play.

The vast continent of Africa has produced many great genres of music and dance, but this production offered few examples of this. The live singing and dance routines are mundane, and the recorded music used is barely adequate to convey the passion and heartache felt in such a turbulent environment.
I wanted to enjoy this play - I feel a special affinity with Africa, and its politics and its arts and culture - but sadly I left the Playhouse disappointed. I don't think I was the only one in the audience who felt that way.