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Mother Courage and Her Children (1984)

Mother Courage and Her Children


A Royal Shakespeare Company production of a play by Bertolt Brecht, in a new version by Hanif Kureishi, performed at the Barbican Theatre, London (7 November 1984 - 21 March 1985).

Running time: 3 hours and 10 minutes (including interval)


Mother Courage and Her Children image #1 Mother Courage and Her Children image #2 Mother Courage and Her Children image #3 Mother Courage and Her Children image #4

The first photo shows Zoe Wanamaker and Judi Dench in rehearsal.  The second shows (from top to bottom) Kattrin (played by Zoe Wanamaker) and Mother Courage (Judi Dench).  The third shows Mother Courage and Kattrin.  The fourth shows various characters.

With thanks to Chris at The Unofficial Chronology of Dame Judi Dench\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'s Career for the rehearsal photo, as well as some production information.


Set between 1624 and 1636, at the height of the Thirty Years' War, the play follows the fortunes of Mother Courage and her children - sons Eilif and Swiss Cheese, in addition to mute daughter Kattrin - as the family scrape a living selling rations to soldiers. 

When Eilif and Swiss Cheese are drafted into the army, Mother Courage and Kattrin must struggle on as the war rages.  The pair are seized by soldiers intending to slaughter the inhabitants of a nearby town; but when Kattrin beats a drum to alert the townspeople to the danger, she herself becomes the soldiers' target.


Judi Dench ... Mother Courage

Zoë Wanamaker ... Kattrin

Miles Anderson ... Eilif

Bruce Alexander ... Swiss Cheese

Geoffrey Beevers ... The Recruiting Officer

Paul Greenwood ... The Recruiting Sergeant

Trevor Peacock ... The Cook

Joseph O'Connor ... The Swedish Commander

Stephen Moore ... The Chaplain

Alexander Wilson ... The Armourer

Lesley Duff ... Yvette

Graham Sinclair ... Soldier with Cannon

Tina Jones, John Nolan, Jeffrey Robert, Graham Sinclair, Paul Spence, Tilda Swinton, and Christopher Wright ... Soldiers, guards, peasants

Christopher Wright ... Man with the Patch

Martin Milman ... Catholic Sergeant

John Cater ... The Old Colonel

Alexander Wilson ... The Clerk

Paul Spence, Tilda Swinton, and Tina Jones ... Claimants

Graham Sinclair ... A Guard

Paul Clayton ... The Angry Soldier

Jeffrey Robert ... The Wiser Soldier

Paul Spence and Christopher Wright ... The Sober Soldiers

Tina Jones ... The Farmer's Wife

John Nolan ... The Farmer

Paul Clayton and Paul Greenwood ... The Drunken Soldiers

Paul Spence ... The Young Man

Tilda Swinton ... His Mother

John Nolan ... The Messenger of Peace

Paul Clayton and Graham Sinclair ... The Execution Squad

Paul Clayton ... The Unseen Parson

Tilda Swinton ... The Peasant Girl

Martin Milman ... The Lieutenant

Christopher Wright ... His Sergeant

Graham Sinclair, Paul Spence, and Alexander Wilson ... Three Soldiers

Eileen Page ... Peasant Woman

Jeffrey Robert ... Peasant Man

Paul Greenwood ... Their Son


Director: Howard Davies
Set Designer: John Napier
Costume Designer: Lindy Hemming
Lighting Designer: David Hersey
Music: George Fenton
Sound: Frank Bradley
Company Voice Work: Cicely Berry and David Carey
Musical Director: Richard Brown
Assistant Director: Paul Marcus
Stage Manager: David Harvey
Deputy Stage Manager: Helen Lovat-Fraser
Assistant Stage Manager: Peter Miller
Musicians: Christopher Lacey (flutes), Victor Slaymark (clarinet/alto saxophone), Martin Frith (tenor/baritone saxophone), Peter Whittaker (bassoon/bass harmonica), Colin Rae (trumpet), David Hissey (trombone), Wildred Gibson (violin), Ben Grove (guitar/banjo), Tony McVey (percussion), and Richard Brown (keyboards)
Production Photographer: Nobby Clark


Zoë was recently asked a few questions about this 1984-5 production of Mother Courage and Her Children for a student's project.  Here are her answers to those questions - they provide a very interesting insight into the production.

1.  Did you refer to Brechtian techniques such as gestus to perform your role?

'No, we didn't use those techniques.'

2.  Could you please describe (if rememebered!) your costume as Kattrin?

'My costume was grey. I had rags wrapped around my head with my hair through the rags.'

3.  What were your thoughts for scene 11 (the drumming scene)?  Did you find it difficult?  Do you believe it was effective?

'The drumming scene was very powerful. Kattrin is drumming to save lives at the expense of her own. She is on top of the roof and when shot, falls 10 feet and drops on to the stage.

'Also, she is mute because of rape and the horror of war. She is made dumb by trauma. She is the child of war. I loved playing her. She is full of love which makes her death even more tragic.

'Mother Courage is a survivor. She loses all her children to war.

'This play will, sadly, always have something to say to us.'

Mother Courage and Her Children was the subject of a backstage joke shared by Zoe and her co-star, Judi Dench, when they were preparing to make their entrances in The Importance of Being Earnest (1982).  As writer Malcolm Hays explained, 'they would sometimes indulge in what became a long-standing joke, urging each other on with the thought ''it could be worse - we could be pulling that wagon in Mother Courage around!'''.  They soon found themselves doing just that when appearing together in Brecht's play!  (The wagon is visible in a couple of the production photos above.)

Since Kattrin is unable to speak, Zoë was presented with the challenge of expressing her character's thoughts and feelings without the aid of words, earning a 1985 Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Performance of the Year in a Supporting Role for her efforts.  She later joked about the novelty of not having to remember any lines: 'My favourite role was a non-speaking role: Kattrin in Mother Courage [...] The reason why it was my favourite was I didn't have any lines to learn and I died at the end and the audience was very sad!  [Laughs]  I say that flippantly, I don't really have favourite roles.  When I am doing them, they are my favourite because you put your heart and soul into them' (see 'Commentary' in Electra: A New Adaptation By Frank McGuinness).

Zoë had previously performed in another of Bertolt Brecht's plays, a TV adaptation of Baal (1982), starring alongside David Bowie. 

Mother Courage and Her Children is one of the many productions in which Zoe has appeared with the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, which she joined in 1976.  Her other RSC productions during the early 1980s include The Time of Your Life (1983), Twelfth Night (1983), The Comedy of Errors (1983), and Othello (1989).

Press coverage

Irving Wardle, writing for The Times, admired the 'passionate and desperate vitality' Zoe demonstrated in her portrayal of Kattrin.  For the Standard's Milton Shulman, Zoe was 'a marvel' in the role.  In Zoe's performance, as Philip Brady explained in TLS, Mother Courage's mute daughter 'becomes the very epitome of triumph against the odds, abstracted in her muteness and yet involved, very frail and yet very strong'.


Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht

Related links

Mother Courage and Her Children production photos - Photostage (search the collection using the keywords 'Wanamaker' and 'Mother' to view images)

Mother Courage and Her Children production photo - Rex Features

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