By Keith McKenna
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Mother Courage and Her Children

This article is over 15 years, 2 months old
Stephen Unwin's take on one of Brecht's best known plays
Issue 2023

A recent Royal Shakespeare Company poster declared that “in war there are no winners”. It is a view that German playwright Bertolt Brecht would have disputed.

Brecht’s programme notes for his play Mother Courage and Her Children detailed the soaring war profits of the Standard Oil Company. For him war was “the continuation of business by other means”.

A new English Touring Theatre production of Mother Courage, directed by Stephen Unwin, shows what this business does to ordinary people.

Written during the opening months of the Second World War, it centres on Anna Fierling’s struggle to survive war torn Europe in the 17th century by trading with the army.

She earned the name Mother Courage by racing through the bombardment of Riga to sell 20 loaves before they rotted. The play constantly questions the idea of courage.

Anna points out that the poor need courage to have children to plough during wartime, and need incredible courage to put up with an emperor or a pope.

This is the world seen from below where soldiers and ordinary people comment and argue about the system. A huge wagon is hauled round the stage by Anna and her children through most of the scenes, emphasising the exhausting physical labour of their lives.

Diana Quick plays Anna with powerful sensitivity. This Mother Courage is intelligent, articulate and quick witted.

War shapes every situation, but Brecht shows that there is nothing inevitable about the events we witness.

Stephen Unwin is faithful to Brecht’s early productions of this play, mixing argument, humour, music and strong performances in a powerfully engaging piece. He claims that “Brecht’s play is drama’s greatest plea for peace – and against fascism”.

Mother Courage and Her Children
English Touring Theatre, various venues until 2 December
For tour dates go to


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