Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder

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Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder is an anti-war play by Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)[1].

Usually translated into English as Mother Courage and her Children or simply Mother Courage.

The original text

This is a quintessential and enormously influential Brecht play, a prime example of Epic Theatre[2] and considered by many to be one of the greatest plays written in the 20th century.

Inspired by the leading character in the novel Lebensbeschreibung der Ertzbetrügerin und Landstörtzerin Courasche (1669 - "biography of the [female] arch deceiver and thieving vagabond Courage") by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1621-1676)[3]. Dealing with a thief and whore during the Thirty Years' War, it has been translated into English as "The Runagate Courage" or "The Life of Courage".

The play was written by Brecht, apparently in a white heat of anger (completing it in a month according to legend) and with significant contributions from Margarete Steffin[4], in 1938/39, while Brecht was in self-imposed exile in Sweden.

It was first performed in Zürich in 1941, opening on 19th April in the Schauspielhaus Zürich, directed by Leopold Lindtberg. Finally performed in Berlin on 11 January, 1949, with Helene Weigel in the leading role.

The first publication was Scene 6, which appeared in Internationale Literatur (ZS), Moscow, December 1940, while the theatre text (prompt text) was published by Theaterverlag Kurt Reiss, Basel 1941. The first version to appear in independent book format was the English translation by H.R. Hays entitled Mother Courage), published by Norfolg in 1941 for New Directions Publishing.

The first comprehensive German edition (Bertolt Brecht: Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) only appeared in 1949, published by Erstdruck Suhrkamp, Berlin.

Translations and adaptations

There have been numerous English and other translations and adaptations since the 1941 version by Hays (See for example "Bertolt Brecht" in Wikipedia[5]).

Relevant English and Dutch versions

Among the translations and adaptations of importance in the South African context are:

Mother Courage and her Children by Eric Bentley in 1955, and published in Seven plays by Bertolt Brecht. New York: Grove, c1961.

Translated into English by Ralph Manheim in 1972 [6].

A translation into Dutch by Gerrit Kouwenaar, Moeder Courage en Haar Kinderen was published by Bezige Bij in 1967.

South African versions

Translated from the German into Afrikaans by Fred Steyn as Moeder Courage en Haar Kinders. Published by DALRO in 1973.

Translated into Afrikaans by Saartjie Botha in 2015, with the title Moeder Moed en Haar Kinders. Presented at the Aardklop festival in 2015[7] and the Woordfees 2016 [8].

The play was adapted and localized as the Afrikaans play Kristalvlakte ("Crystal flats" or "crystal plain") by Amy Jephta. Set on the Cape Flats. Performed in the Fugard Theatre as part of the Suidoosterfees in 2016. For details on Jephta's play, see the entry on Kristalvlakte.

Performance history in South Africa

1958: The first production in South Africa was by Robert Mohr for the University of Stellenbosch Department of Speech and Drama, presented by Arena '58. The set and costume designer and assistant to the director was Limpie Basson, who was also a member of the large cast which included actors such as Cecile Buurman, Vicki Vosloo and Roelf Laubscher.

1971: Performed in Fred Steyn's Afrikaans translation as Moeder Courage en Haar Kinders by the Drama Department of the University of Pretoria, directed by Hannes Horne, with Anna Neethling-Pohl as "Mother Courage". The performance was a farewell one for Professor Neethling-Pohl, who was retiring from the University. It was to become one of her stock roles.

1973: Presented in English by CAPAB English Drama in the Nico Malan Theatre, opening Saturday 6 October. Directed by Michael Meacham assisted by John Burch. Musical director and arranger Christopher Fifield, setting and costumes by Penny Simpson, lighting designed by John Baker. Stage director Brian Kennedy, stage manager Lorraine Bellamy. The cast: Babs Laker (Mother Courage}, Liz Dick (Kattrin, her dumb daughter), Nicholas Ellenbogen (Eilif, her son), Stephen Gurney (Swiss Cheese, her younger son), Johan Malherbe (The Cook), James Irwin (The Chaplain), Liz Staughton (Yvette Pottier), Keith Grenville (Swedish Commander). Other parts were played by Dugald Thomson, David Crichton, John Walton, Elliot Playfair, Mollie Thompson, Michael Swinton, Alan Prior, Glynn Day, David Sherwood.

1973: The Fred Steyn Afrikaans translation performed as Moeder Courage by PACOFS, with Anna Neethling-Pohl in the lead role and Jan Bruijns, directed by Truida Louw.

1977: The Ralph Manheim English translation was staged in the Market Theatre by The Company, directed by Barney Simon, with a cast including Alan Swerdlow, Yvonne Bryceland, Vanessa Cooke, Ron Smerczak, Danny Keogh, Victor Melleney, Bill Smale, Wilson Dunster, Nigel Vermaas, John Hussey, Justin Haines, Aletta Bezuidenhout, Marcel van Heerden, Peter Piccolo, Margaret Fry and Beverley Melnick. Designs by Johan Engels (credited as Johann Engels) and lighting by Mannie Manim. The opening night of this play on 20 October 1977 commemorated the first anniversary of the Market Theatre.

2000: A National Theatre Guild of Uganda production was presented at the National Arts Festival.

2014: Performed at the KKNK in Afrikaans as Moeder Moed en Haar Kinders (the Saartjie Botha translation) as a KKNK and PACOFS co-production, directed by Jerry Mofokeng, with Aletta Bezuidenhout, Deon Lotz, André Roothman, Nicole Holm, Juliana Venter, Jacques Theron, Cintaine Schutte, en Milan Struwig.

2015: Performed at the Aardklop festival in Afrikaans as Moeder Moed en Haar Kinders (the Saartjie Botha translation) as a KKNK and PACOFS co-production, directed by Jerry Mofokeng, with Aletta Bezuidenhout, Deon Lotz, André Roothman, Nicole Holm, De Klerk Oelofse, Geon Nel, Juliana Venter, Jacques Theron, Cintaine Schutte, Gerben Kamper, Greta van der Merwe, Altus Moolman.

2016: The KKNK/PACOFS production of Moeder Moed en Haar Kinders performed in May at the Woordfees in Afrikaans, with the same cast, a site-specific presentation in the ruins of the burned down Klein Libertas Teater.

2016: Kristalvlakte, the Afrikaans adaptation by Amy Jephta, performed at the Suidoosterfees and then played the Aardklop festival in October.


Wim Vorster. TUKS Dramadepartement 1971 -1973[9]

Mother Courage theatre programmes (Arena '58) 1958; (CAPAB) 1973.

Percy Tucker, 1997. 345.

PACOFS Drama 25 Years, 1963-1988.

The Company theatre programme (undated).

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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