Rather like the proverbial shark, Mother Courage and her children have to keep moving, or they’ll die.
In Red Ladder’s production the audience moves with her, following her cart around the dusty basement of a cavernous Leeds electrical warehouse, standing in for the war-torn Europe of the 17th century.
The decision by director Rod Dixon to stage Mother Courage as a promenade is an inspired one. Standing for three hours is undeniably uncomfortable, but it thrusts you right into the action. This intimate approach also allows you to see an acting masterclass from Pauline McLynn up close.
As a woman determined to shield herself and her children from the horrors of war by concentrating on making a profit, her facial expressions as she refuses to acknowledge her dead son are something to behold.
The supporting cast are also excellent. There’s a remarkably expressive performance from Bea Webster as the deaf daughter Kattrin (something which allows signing to be incorporated into the production).
Lee Hall’s interpretation of Brecht’s text is delightfully coarse and profane. Sarah Mills’ costumes are brilliantly evocative, with the soldiers wearing grotesque half-masks that give them the appearance of pigs.
Yet it’s the experience as a whole that makes the biggest impression – wandering across Sara Perks’ gloomy, dark set accompanied by former Chumbawamba guitarist Boff Whalley’s atmospheric songs.
Mother Courage’s final howl of despair, echoing through the warehouse, stays with you – as does the sense that history seems doomed to repeat itself over and over again.