Review: NTW - Mother Courage And Her Children @ Merthyr Labour Club
Merthyr Labour Club, Merthyr Tydfil
Venturing up to the valleys on a coach, whose driver knew no speed limit, this was my rekindling with National Theatre Wales (NTW). Last year, I was in their production of Mametz (playing a German solider) and the community spirit is never far from their ethos. Whether it's the town centre of Port Talbot, a wood in Monmouthshire or a labour club in Merthyr, no location is out of bounds for NTW. All the better for it.
I had severe doubts about this working in a club, but I was totally mistaken. What followed was an evening that gripped and moved. Mother Courage barters with soldiers in the Swedish army in the 30 Years War in the 17th century. In this relationship with war, she threatens to lose all of her children - all victims of the brutality of the war. Her actions and indecisions can lead to fatal consequences.
This version of the antiwar piece is Welshified beyond belief. With its wicked Welsh wit, Ed Thomas, who has revised the play, makes us think that the battle is today and on our home turf. Director John E McGrath has said it is "absolutely the right time and place" to do the work. Few would argue, but such is the constant conflict that has prevailed from the birth of this play (written in a frenzied one month by Brecht in 1939), there has never been a good time to not put this on.
It still feels like a living club, as Brecht's awkward songs are given better-fitting music by Dafydd James. This was achieved by some karaoke versions, which made for some merriment and rowdiness. The set was minimal, but an army of supermarket trollies was her cart, in keeping with Brecht's ideas on theatre.
The acting I could talk of for a long time. In an all-female cast, these ladies show the greatest of local talent that we are blessed with. In a totally heartbreaking and absorbing role, Rhian Morgan as Courage has the audience obsessed with her. Her coping with her children being killed was profoundly heartbreaking; at one point, slamming the mass of trollies into the stairs. Cathy Owen as Swiss Cheese was wise but terribly dumb in the role, compulsive about their money box.
Sharon Morgan, as the mute Katrin, moved us with her fragility and exposure. Before the show had started, she lingered around me, saying to me "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" in deep, cheesy, crisp breath to my bafflement. Ri Richards, as the Chaplain, was devoted and calculating in her schemes and reasonable barraging. In short, all the ladies (including the community performers) were all fabulous. Each and every one of them.
Best work of theatre of the year, so far!?
Gut-wretching, hilarious and alert.
There is absolutely no excuse not to see Mother Courage in Merthyr.
Rating: 5 stars [out of 5 stars]
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Photo Credit: Farrows Creative / National Theatre Wales