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I was just sent this:

“I think Tony Blair is one of the most un-Dostoevskian characters in Britain.”

The words are the archbishop of Canterbury’s, and I have to say, bloody brilliant.

If you read the whole Guardian article, you realise that the Dostoevsky reference was not taken completely out of the blue, but prompted by a question on Tony Blair’s performance at the Chilcot Enquiry, asked at a lecture given on Dostoevsky.  Nonetheless, rather amusing, especially coming from the clergy, don’t you think (Why do I imagine priests being dreadfully boring?)?

Oh, but wait, it gets better;

“I did once rather unkindly say that Tony Blair did do God but he didn’t do irony. Irony is when you recognise that your own sense of dramatic power is always something that is going to be absurd in the light of truth. The readiness to cope with that absurdity is something that you have to learn in order to grow up.”


This time it makes perfect sense why two critics’ views of a show are miles apart. You remember Phedré getting one respectively five stars from the Independent and the Guardian? This time it is The Telegraph who thinks Mother Courage and Her Children, currently running at the National Theatre, is worth one star while over at the Guardian it has been rewarded with four. Charles Spencer calls it one of the most embarrassing spectacles I have ever seen in a theatre, a desperate ploy to make Brecht, the discredited old Marxist, seem relevant and modern while Michael Billington thinks it’s one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. As another Guardian writer points out; As a rule, the more Conservative the newspaper, the less its critic likes Mother Courage.

Without getting overtly in to my political views here; I am very, very fond of my Brecht. This three hour spectacle was not embarrassing at all; most of it was actually quite enjoyable.

Fiona Shaw gives her all as Mother Courage, scampering around the stage like a gypsy-cum-rock star and is noticeably exhausted in the end. Her hard-headiness and sharp-witted nature makes her a charismatic and principally likeable character. But as Brecht pits war against morality, her capitalistically driven business-sense, that not only allows her to endure the 30 Year War but also to profit from it, has fatal consequences as she loses each of her three children. There is in Mother Courage (both the character and the play as a whole) a gradual build-up of a deeply emotional dimension, which I have to say I found lacking in this production. You could argue that Brecht favoured Intelligent Thinking over Emotive Feeling but in fact he was of the opinion that the two cannot be divided. His call for an epic theatre was based on the view that it was not enough to incite emotion in the audience; those feelings also had to be examined.

So with Brecht you get a bit of a disjointed narrative, stage directions read out loud (in this case by Gore Vidal. You know, I really thought he had kicked the bucket a long time ago but apparently he is still going strong.), dressers and costume changes on-stage, musicians and random song outbursts (this role is given almost entirely to Duke Special which I think explains the hordes of screaming teenagers). Director Deborah Warner has been more than faithful to Brecht’s intentions. A barn is a barn, not because it looks like a barn but because there is a sign that tells you it is a barn, that kind of thing. But all those distancing effects need to be balanced by an engagement of the heart as well as the mind. It gets a bit like with Moulin Rouge. It’s loud (extremely loud), confident and showy and while you’re watching it does feels really impressive. But afterwards you leave feeling surprisingly unaffected with only some stupid song stuck to your brain. Nonetheless, even though Mother Courage is not all there, Brecht sure is and somehow that is more than enough.

on twitter

  • RT @artinsociety: Albrecht Dürer died #OTD 1528, almost 500 years ago, but his studies of animals and bugs live on ~ here’s his finely-obse… 10 months ago
  • RT @TheSyriaCmpgn: These photos show the devastating conditions Syrian refugees are facing in Lebanon after a brutal storm left their tents… 1 year ago
  • RT @jeremycorbyn: I, Daniel Blake will be shown on TV for the first time, tonight at 9.45pm on BBC 2. It shows the human cost of this Tory… 1 year ago


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mimi harcourt