Mother Courage and her Children

Written by Bertolt Brecht

Thurs 25th April - Sat 27th April & Tues 30th April - Sat 4th May 1996

Directed by Damon Wakelin

Arguably Brecht's greatest play, Mother Courage is the story of Anna Fierling, single parent and entrepreneur. Her struggle to survive, to keep business afloat and to keep her children safe, is played against the backdrop of a continent riven by war.

AuthorBertolt Brecht

Eugen Bertolt Friedrich Brecht (1898 - 1956)

Brecht was a poet, playwright, and theatre director. Born in Augsburg, Germany, he studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Munich before becoming a medical orderly in a German military hospital during the First World War. This experience reinforced his hatred of war and influenced his support for the failed Socialist revolution in 1919. After the war Brecht returned to university but became more interested in literature - his first play to be produced was Baal in 1922.

Together with Kurt Weill he later wrote The Threepenny Opera (based on The Beggar's Opera). Brecht added his own lyrics which illustrated his growing belief in Marxism. He also attempted to develop a new approach to the the theatre. He tried to persuade his audiences to see the stage as a stage, actors as actors and not to overlook the traditional make-believe of the theatre. Brecht required detachment, not passion, from the observing audience. The purpose of the play was to awaken the spectators' minds so that he could communicate his version of the truth.

Brecht's plays reflected a Marxist interpretation of society and when Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933 he was forced to flee from Germany - living in Denmark, Sweden and the Soviet Union and finally the USA. While living in exile he wrote anti-Nazi plays such as 'The Roundheads and the Peakheads' and 'Fear and Misery of the Third Reich'. This was later followed by 'Galileo', 'Mother Courage', 'The Good Man of Szechuan', 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' and the 'Caucasian Chalk Circle'.

In 1947 Brecht was named in the House of Un-American Activities Committee investigation. He denied being a member of the American Communist Party but soon after left the USA for East Germany. In 1949 Brecht founded the Berliner Ensemble (which became the country's most famous theatre company) with his wife and long-time collaborator, the actress Helene Weigel.

PlayMother Courage and her Children

'Mother Courage and her Children' was written in 1939 by Brecht in a direct attempt to counter the rise of Fascism in Germany at that time and is considered to be one of the worlds greatest anti-war plays. It was originally produced in Zurich at the Schauspielhaus. Mother Courage is among Brecht's most famous plays, and has been considered by some to be the greatest play of the 20th century. His work attempts to show the horrors of war and the idea that virtues are not rewarded in corrupt times. He used an epic structure so that the audience focuses on the issues being displayed rather than getting involved with the characters and emotions.

The action of the play takes place over the course of 12 years (1624 to 1636), represented in 12 scenes and follows the life and hard times of a canteen woman named "Mother Courage" who feeds, trades with, and lives with soldiers as they fight on the battlefield. Some scenes give a sense of Courage's career without being given enough time to develop sentimental feelings and empathise with any of the characters - indeed Mother Courage is depicted as trying to make a profit from the war. Mother Courage is not depicted as a noble character - here the Brechtian epic theatre sets itself apart from the ancient Greek tragedies in which the heroes are far above the average. With the same alienating effect, the ending of Brecht's play does not arouse our desire to imitate the main character.

The Bench Production

Mother Courage and her Children poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


GuitaristRob Finn
RecruiterAndrew Caple
SergeantPete Woodward
Anna Fierling, Mother CourageDeb Money
KattrinNikki Robinson
EilifNick Ashton
Swiss CheeseNeil Pugmire
The CookAndrew Rees
The GeneralJohn Blackmore
The ChaplainTom Kennar
The ArmourerTim Taylor
Yvette PottierSally Hartley
SoldierNigel Baldwin
The Man with a PatchJohn Blackmore
Second SergeantPete Woodward
Ancient ColonelJohn Batstone
Regimental ClerkNigel Baldwin
Angry SoldierTim Taylor
Calmer SoldierAndrew Caple
Soldier in a fur coatTim Taylor
Second SoldierAndrew Caple
Peasant WomenSue Finn, Becky Dear
Peasant ManPete Woodward
Soldiers at the BarJohn Blackmore, Andrew Caple
Tim Taylor, Pete Woodward
Professional LadiesSue Finn, Becky Dear
PeasantTim Taylor
Peasant WomanRosemary Sawyer
GuardsAndrew Caple, John Blackmore
EnsignAndrew Caple
SoldiersNigel Baldwin, John Blackmore
Peasant WomanRosemary Sawyer
PeasantPete Woodward
Peasant SonTim Taylor


Director Damon Wakelin
Musical Director Tom Kennar
Stage Manager Jenny Evans
Assistant Stage Managers Rosemary Sawyer, Barbara Szulerecki
Lighting Design Steve Wilkins
Music Composed by Tom Kennar and Rob Finn
Rehearsal Photography Tim Taylor
Production Photography John Plimmer
Publicity John O'Hanlon, Kathy O'Hanlon and Leonie Harrington
Cart design and construction Tim Taylor
Handbill designed by Pete Woodward
Flags designed and created by Students of South Downs College

Director's Notes

What have I done? Mother Courage is a mammoth undertaking, but Brecht is a favourite playwright of mine and Courage a favourite play. But where does one start?

With definitions. Brecht's great theories of alienation cast an enormous shadow across his work; a shadow that cannot be ignored. Brecht himself felt that the theatre had, for too long, been a place of entertainment only. he believed that the theatre should be a place of education too. In the new "scientific age", Brecht sought what he called a "scientific audience"; that is to say a rational dispassionate and analytical audience; to entertain this audience would be to challenge them.

To do this he used "A-effects" - alienation, to make the familiar unfamiliar. For all the originality of this new approach, many of its components were borrowed (as were many of his plots!) from ancient and disparate sources. The story tellers and chorus from Greek theatre; the painted faces, masks and symbolism of Chinese theatre; the overlapping and "epic" historical narratives of Shakespeare and the removal of the fourth wall. Mother Courage uses all of these techniques bar the painted faces and masks.

Thence to the effect these techniques are intended to achieved. In order to aid the rational analysis of the playwrights message, Brecht wanted to remove empathy - both on the part of the players and the audience. the actors were not to "play" but merely represent their characters and the audience was not to become so emotionally involved with the characters that they lost sight of the author's intent. A good theory. A very difficult practice.

I would call myself a "death-bed Brechtian". Towards the end of his life, Brecht began to re-evaluate his stance on empathy. To my mind, an audience's empathy is essential. If an audience does not care for the characters in a play, then they certainly will not care for the author's intent, no matter how worthy. Brecht was also his own worst enemy; some of his characters simply demand our empathy, they are just so well written.

And so, in Mother Courage, my aim is that Kattrin's death in scene eleven (very Brechtian - giving away the ending) be the emotional and dramatic climax of the play, allowing the audience the emotional buffer of scene twelve to absorb and interpret Brecht's final image; Mother Courage, raw from her daughter's death, an abject pitiful creature trailing in the wake of a war that has ravaged her but that she still depends upon for her existence.

Since Brecht's death in 1956, many of his theatrical devices have become standard tools of the trade for dramatists the world over, writers and directors alike. Brecht casts his shadow over more than his own work.

The enormity of this project has been greatly reduced by the support received from those about me. Special thanks to the indefatigable Tim Taylor - chauffeur, cart builder and Guinness drinker; to Debbie Money who has endured an extremely taxing rehearsal schedule with indomitable good cheer and enthusiasm; to Tom Kennar and Rob Finn, the YMCA mafia who, having written the music they virtually re-wrote it to suit the "requirements" of the cast and happily nurtured the confidence of an essentially non-singing company; to Steve Wilkins for his technical expertise and good company. And thanks to the whole cast and crew for their efforts and their invaluable input and support throughout.

So what have I done? The best I can. Enjoy the show.

Damon Wakelin


The NewsAvril Stephens

Braving hardships of war

The hardships of war come to Havant in Brecht's play Mother Courage and her Children. The tragic figure of Mother Courage, who loses her three children in the 30-year war, struggles to keep her cart and business on track.

It becomes a bit of a battle sitting through a production of nearly three hours, with the Bench Theatre soldiering through its songs. But superb performances by Sally Hartley as the flighty but faithful prostitute and Tom Kennar as the chaplain won the day. Andrew Rees was impressive as the cocky cook and Neil Pugmire played the part of a simple but honest juvenile with sufficient jitteriness.

The News, 26th April 1996

Production Photographs