< Back to Stage menu

Mother Courage and Her Children (1984)

Mother Courage and Her Children

A play by Bertolt Brecht, in a new version by Hanif Kureishi, based on a literal translation by Sue Davies, and with lyrics by Sue Davies; performed at the Barbican Theatre, London, beginning 2 November 1984.

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


Photos


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

Overview

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.

Cast

Mother Courage ... Judi Dench
Kattrin ... ZoŽ Wanamaker
Eilif ... Miles Anderson
Swiss Cheese ... Bruce Alexander
The Recruiting Officer ... Geoffrey Beevers
The Recruiting Sergeant ... Paul Greenwood
The Cook ... Trevor Peacock
The Swedish Commander ... Joseph O'Connor
The Chaplain ... Stephen Moore
The Armourer ... Alexander Wilson
Yvette ... Lesley Duff
Soldier with Cannon ... Graham Sinclair
Soldiers, guards, peasants ... Tina Jones, John Nolan, Jeffrey Robert, Graham Sinclair, Paul Spence, Tilda Swinton, and Christopher Wright
Man with the Patch ... Christopher Wright
Catholic Sergeant ... Martin Milman
The Old Colonel ... John Cater
The Clerk ... Alexander Wilson
Claimants ... Paul Spence, Tilda Swinton, and Tina Jones
A Guard ... Graham Sinclair
The Angry Soldier ... Paul Clayton
The Wiser Soldier ... Jeffrey Robert
The Sober Soldiers ... Paul Spence and Christopher Wright
The Farmer's Wife ... Tina Jones
The Farmer ... John Nolan
The Drunken Soldiers ... Paul Clayton and Paul Greenwood
The Young Man ... Paul Spence
His Mother ... Tilda Swinton
The Messenger of Peace ... John Nolan
The Execution Squad ... Paul Clayton and Graham Sinclair
The Unseen Parson ... Paul Clayton
The Peasant Girl ... Tilda Swinton
The Lieutenant ... Martin Milman
His Sergeant ... Christopher Wright
Three Soldiers ... Graham Sinclair, Paul Spence, and Alexander Wilson
Peasant Woman ... Eileen Page
Peasant Man ... Jeffrey Robert
Their Son ... Paul Greenwood

Crew

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

Notes

ZoŽ 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, ZoŽ 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).

ZoŽ 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'.

Merchandise

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


Site design and original text © 2002 - 2017 www.zoewanamaker.com, unless specified otherwise.
Most images used on this site are the copyright of their photographer, Ms. Wanamaker, and/or the production company of the show. Use of these images is covered under the fair use limitation in the USA, and the fair dealing limitaton in the UK.
This site is a non-commercial endeavour.