A review of “Mother Courage and her Children” and direction of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus”

Upon viewing Bertolt Brecht’s classic play, “Mother Courage and her Children,” staged by the University of Calgary’s Drama department, it was evident that the director, Adrian Young, had made deliberate choices on how this play would be performed. These decisions have both inspired and impacted the way in which I would stage Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” An interesting choice made by Young was to have his actors wandering around the main entrance of the theater, conversing with the audience while remaining in character. In addition to this, the audience literally became members of the cast; the second half of the play began with the audience being directed onto the stage by stern and intimidating soldiers, to take on the role of townspeople trying to avoid an army strike. These features effectively immersed the audience into the production, as if we were also a part of the desperate desire to survive.

Furthermore, the captions describing the scenes stated that it was the 17th century, during the Thirty Year War, but the costumes and props were indicative of World War II. This choice allowed for a more obvious link to the allegorical purpose of Brecht’s play. With this is mind, the quality of the costumes and props was remarkable, as there was no question as to which era the soldiers were meant to portray. Furthermore, the economic struggle faced by Mother Courage and her children was also reflected in their clothing, and the anomalous red dress of the prostitute Yvette was well chosen. Another very interesting choice made by Young, was his use of the stage and lighting. In many scenes, he had two different interactions occurring on stage at the same time, whereby the actors in both exchanges would continue their activities but one would carry out in silence, while the other involved speaking. The lighting was used to ensure that the audience did not disregard the other action simultaneously taking place in silence on the other half of the stage, as the events were equally as important.

The inclusion of the audience created a very unique and memorable experience for the viewers. If I were to stage “Titus Andronicus,” I would still like to ensure that the audience is effectively immersed, but I would not do this so literally. Instead, I would have the play performed on an arena stage, rather than the thrust-type stage in the University Theatre. This would allow the audience to be seated on all sides of the stage. Moreover, the actors would enter and exit using the large walkways between the sections of seats to break the imagined barrier between the audience and actors. In terms of the casting, I would have Russell Crowe portray Marcus Andronicus, Amanda Seyfried as Lavinia, Jeffery Dean Morgan as Saturninus, and Scarlett Johansson as Tamora. Titus being the central character, and Aaron being the mastermind behind his demise, makes these two characters imperative for the progression of the play. I believe Liam Neeson would do a fantastic job of delivering a nuanced performance that involves the transition from a stable, well-respected soldier who values his honor and virtue above all else, to a man weakened by recurring tragedy and as a result, wavers between insanity and lucidity. Furthermore, Denzel Washington’s versatility provides him with the capacity to seamlessly portray Aaron’s cunning demeanor and chilling villainous humor as he successfully brings about the downfall of Titus and his family.

Much like the costumes chosen by Young for “Mother Courage,” I want the costumes for “Titus” to be historically indicative of ancient Rome, while concurrently representing the demeanor of each character. Both Titus and Marcus will wear off-white togas with a blue trim, to indicate their wisdom, loyalty, and intelligence. However, once Titus endures the tragedy of losing his two sons, along with his hand, he will then be dressed in a toga with a red trim to signify the bloody passing of his family, and eventually himself. Since Lavinia’s appeal centers around her precious chastity, she will be dressed in a stark white stola that will be tattered and grotesquely stained with crimson red to denote her rape and mutilation. Furthermore, as Tamora was originally the Queen of the Goths, I will ensure that the style of the clothing reflects her transition from a captured “barbarian” to the empress of Rome; upon her first entry, she will be clothed in a tattered black dress, and later wear a pristine purple stola, to imply regality. Since Aaron is Tamora’s secret lover, he will be dressed in all black to indicate both their relationship, as well as his thoroughly evil conduct.

Young employed several moveable set pieces, such as the run-down shelter and wagon used by Mother Courage. Thus, moveable set pieces will be used to easily transition from one setting to another, since a backdrop cannot be used on an arena stage. Moreover, in 5.2, I would utilize a realistic, mobile, chariot in which Tamora and her sons can make a grand entrance in their disguises. In terms of lighting, I would implement sudden disorienting red flashes of light, followed by complete darkness each time an act of murder or mutilation is completed. This will creatively imply the horrifyingly bloody act rather than openly showcasing it. Lastly, stage directions, such as the entrance and exit of the characters, will be slightly manipulated, whereby the actors will often remain on stage, allowing actions to occur simultaneously. This was inspired by Young’s choice to have two actions occur at the same time. The most prominent example of this will be in 3.1, when Titus, Marcus, and Lucius argue over whose hand will be cut off in exchange for saving Titus’ two sons. Instead of having Lucius and Marcus go off stage to “look for an axe,” they will stay on stage on the opposite side frantically searching for an axe while Titus has his hand cut off. This will increase the sense of urgency in Titus’ decision, as the mutilation must occur before Marcus and Lucius reassume their position next to Titus.

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