Director Eamon Flack's production of Mother Courage and Her Children, playing at the Belvoir Theatre until July 26.
Here, he describes in his own words the power an inspiring old story with some surprising modern relevance.
Brecht wrote Mother Courage and Her Children in the late 1930s when it had become apparent that Germany was preparing, for the second time in a lifetime, to go to war on an industrial scale.
He was disgusted, but he had spent his life learning not to allow astonishment to hijack eloquence. Brecht invented a grim vaudeville. So innovatively cruel and awful was Europe at the time that he had to invent whole new ways of making theatre in order to keep up.
So when the time came to stare down the marauding horror of another war he didn’t blink. He wrote a musical fable about a woman who was at her best in war.
But his setting wasn’t just any old war. The Thirty Years’ War was the first of its kind – a total upheaval of all that had gone before.
All existing forms of order, arrangement, balance, were shattered. Culture, society, law, religion, the economies of the time, even individual thought and feeling were all turned to chaos.
Previously unimaginable beliefs became commonplace. Most people who experienced it thought the world was coming to an end. It was the berserk start of a relentless March of Progress that steadily and violently went on to transform the whole world.
The 17th century is a model for what we are living through now: uncertain, chaotic, accelerating. I don’t for a moment propose that we're dealing with full-blown 17th century conditions – merely a kind of insistent, 17th century-ish-ness.
Elsewhere, the 17th century is not a reference so much as a description of reality. Along the violent frontiers of globalisation– Syria, the Ukraine, Iraq – the situation is as Brecht describes it in this play.
It is similarly true of other places too, not at war but beset by the barbarism that comes when old ways of life clash with the new demands of modernity and capital: parts of China and South America, Pakistan, Gaza, Lebanon, the Philippines… I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that capitalism cannot really control itself.
This show is about the ongoing 17th century out there on the frontiers of globalisation. But it is also about us, the West, dragging our goddamn cart into the 21st century as though we have no alternative.
Belvoir Theatre has been a consistent supporter of New Matilda, and we hope you'll consider supporting them in return. Mother Courage and Her Children, directed by the great Eamon Flack, is playing at Belvoir until 26 July. Click here for tickets.
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