sions that simultaneously transmit light-hearted indifference to the soldiers, and utter desolation to the audience.
But not for the first time Warner has tried to convince us that her long-time actor/collaborator has the soul of rock star. Shaw enters the action atop Courage’s wagon like a magnificent Boadicea — which works very well — but then breaks into a strut with the first of her rock numbers — which does not.
The music is provided by the indie/ folk group Duke Special and the Band who deliver some beautifully poignant songs when they are not fronted by Shaw pretending to be Rod Stewart.
Inevitably it is in the play’s wry observations about humanity where the play is at its most powerful. The exchange between Courage and the doting army Chaplin (Peter Gowan) if a fine example, revealing as it does that war is the inevitable product of human nature rather than a clash of ideals and causes.
There is peace enough even during war for the human species to thrive, says the Chaplin whose job is to persuade soldiers to go willingly to their deaths. “War satisfies all needs,” he blithely declares. But by the time Courage has lost her children she is no longer thriving, but barely surviving in a purgatory of Beckettlike bleakness.
Cottesloe, National Theatre, London SE1
SIXTY years after the 1,600 Jews of the Polish town of Jedwabne were murdered in July 1941, a new memorial was erected.
This one no longer proclaimed the crime to be yet another Nazi atrocity. Recent evidence revealed that the massacre in which most of the Jews were burned alive after being herded into a barn, was in fact the result of a pogrom carried out by the victims’ neighbours.
It is on this version of events, now largely accepted in Poland, that Polish playwright Tadeusz Slobodzianek has based his masterly work. is populated by a 10-strong group of 10 Jews and Catholics who we first see as children sharing a classroom. Later they become the adult victims and perpetrators of the pogrom.
Slobodzianek — whose play is elegantly translated by Ryan Craig — stunningly combines testimony with acted-out scenes. Each character delivers a version of events. Combined, they arrive at a greater truth.
Anglo-Iranian director Bijan Sheibani sets his beautifully performed production within a simple rectangle. And although Jedwabne is never named, there can be no better memorial to the Jews who died there. ( Tel: 020 7452 3000)
Warner’s production cleverly reflects a war’s mad cycle of battle and calm. Moments of civility are punctuated with the sudden chaos and fear brought by the whooshes and explosions of incoming shells.
But while Brecht still has the power to grip and provoke, the play is no longer the revelatory lesson it once was. Which is not to say that Mother Courage is not worth reviving and watching.
I just wonder if an anti-war play with its generic lesson about the hellishness of conflict will make a blind bit of difference to the way we think about the wars being waged in our name now. ( Tel: 020 7452 3000)