Review of “Mother Courage and Her Children” and My Production of “Titus Andronicus”-Lauren Kubica Teply

Photo of me with actor Dan, who played Mother Courage’s eldest son “Eilif”

I recently had the privilege of attending director Adrian Young’s staging of Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht. While watching the play, I focused on the various constructive elements that Young deemed appropriate for her play. Doing so provided me with an extensive amount of insight into what I will now employ for my upcoming performance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.
What was really quite strikingly different about Young’s performance itself occurred after the intermission. Young moved the audience onto the floor of the stage house and scattered the actors throughout, causing it to transform into a highly interactive experience. Although a neat idea, and quite memorable at that, a few complications arose. One predominant dislike I found revolved around scene change since actors were forced to cease performing, round-up and herd the audience to the next appropriate seating location, and then resume. A plausible solution to that issue would be to stage the play on an arena stage, rather than the chosen thrust type stage. An arena stage allows the audience to feel less removed from the action, thereby creating the same effect as locating spectators directly in the stage house. Attending Mother Courage made me realize this, and I will therefore be manipulating an arena stage for my performance of Titus Andronicus. Additionally, I deem it extremely appropriate for alternating sides of the audience to feel blindsided occasionally from the arena layout, since Titus falls victim to schemes he can’t see. All factors considered, I have decided to stage my production in Regina Saskatchewan’s Globe Theatre and I am excited to announce my A-list cast: Liam Neeson as Titus Andronicus, Patrick Stewart as Marcus Andronicus, Susan Sarandon as Tamora, Joaquin Phoenix as Saturninus, Laurence Fishburne as Aaron, and Amanda Seyfried as Lavinia. Neeson (Titus) is renowned for his monotonous solemnity and therefore Titus’s scenes of rage, such as when he stabs his son Mutius, will be performed in a confident and rather icy manner. Fishburne (Aaron) has a strong intimidating presence on stage and I consequentially have decided that Tamora (Sarandon) will express feelings of inferiority towards him, thereby allowing his plans to be completed as seen in 2.3.
The costumes in Mother Courage were outstanding and exceeded my expectations. The realistic and ample military uniforms effectively fulfilled their intimidating task. Soldiers were scattered throughout the theatre during intermission, causing spectators to gain emotional insecurity and fear. Weapons were also present on the actors, and I have no doubt that a blank was shot roughly twice. At least I hope it was a blank…either way the effect was simply heart stopping, literally. As a war time play, the cast was predominantly male and the only touch of glamour was on Yvette who was a heavily made-up prostitute. I have decided my production will use costumes to the same extent as Young did in her production of Mother Courage. Lavinia will be clothed in an old torn gown that is more blood stained than its original colour of white. She will not change, as I believe she must remain alongside Titus in such a way to serve as an emblem of victimization. Titus will wear white underneath his Roman General attire, as he embodies honest virtue. Saturninus, along with Tamora and her two sons Demetrius and Chiron, will be clothed in black while Aaron will wear solely red garbs to emphasize his demonic role.
As for set design, quite a few elements were manipulated for Mother Courage. Her notorious wagon never left her side, tables and chairs were present on the stage with the actors in numerous scenes. A large hut was also in the rear of multiple scenes, most notably when it became the deathbed for fatally shot Kattrin. Portions of the audience seating sections were blocked off and decorated to mirror bomb shelters and military barricades. Doing so caused the audience to feel as though they were in the middle of the war scene. My production will not trespass audience seating whatsoever, as the arena stage I have chosen keeps the audience in close contact with the action at all times. Furthermore, unlike Brecht, Shakespeare incorporated enough stage direction and imagery into the script that stage designs are not a necessity and could unintentionally distract and block the audience. Stage props should serve only as a crutch, as stage effects are the most impactful way to heighten any emotions in a scene. Through the manipulation of coloured lighting, occurrences become significantly more evident and powerful. In Mother Courage, coloured lighting was solely applied for the use of song with a modern twist. The Lullaby was a glowing scene of blue light, as Mother Courage sang her shot daughter to sleep (death). The blue light provided a bone-chilling coldness that amplified the melancholy tone present in the song. Yvette’s song of Fraternization shone bright red which intensified the effects of passionate frustration. Although song and coloured lighting were applied simultaneously as one in Mother Courage, my production of Titus will subtract the musical element from the equation entirely and will solely manipulate lighting. As Titus becomes increasingly crazed and loses clarity throughout the performance, every setting will become consistently darkened and will be accompanied by various auras of coloured shades. This effect will cease once Titus is fatally wounded by Saturninus, as the stage will be momentarily consumed by complete darkness. In addition, once the rape of Lavinia has occurred, a strong red spotlight will accompany her to demonstrate the rage and strong feelings Titus has whenever he catches sight of her. Once Titus has killed her, the spotlight focused on Lavinia’s body transforms to white which emulates her restored honour and purity, along with a great release of Titus’ grief about her cause.
In conclusion, a significant issue that will be adjusted for my staging of Titus Andronicus will be Tamora’s pregnancy with Aaron’s child. Foreshadowing Tamora’s pregnancy will cause the sudden birth to become more realistic, far less surprising, and will also create a time frame for the audience.