Behind the set for Mother Courage

Our company designer Judith Croft tells us what has inspired the set design for Mother Courage and Her Children

So it’s been quite a long time since the Thirty Years’ War – four hundred years in fact. When I was asked to design this production of Mother Courage which Brecht set during that almost forgotten conflict, I realised that I knew almost nothing about the era. But the briefest of research revealed that universal truth – nothing much changes. Imperial powers use religious differences as an excuse to wage war in pursuit of territory and glory. And the ordinary folk must suffer, endure or seek to profit by it. It’s a familiar story.

The Thirty Years’ War was fought between Catholic and Protestants over vast tracts of Northern Europe, but the same story has been played out again and again in later years. And that was the starting point for the production design; that we should create an almost timeless world, not fixed in any particular war, but in a broken, bleak world, familiar to us from our history books at school and from T.V. news bulletins today.

Creating a design for a non-specific war from an indefinite time zone has proved more difficult than you might think. What armaments do the soldiers carry? Do they wear recognisable uniform? Does Mother Courage’s cart have tyres or wooden wheels? I have just started to look through our costume store today, and think my selection has a lot to do with pictures from the Spanish Civil War; like the war in the Middle East and the Thirty Years’ War, so long ago, there was little formal uniform and men fought with whatever came to hand.

Over the next four weeks I will be working with the rest of the production team (set builders, scenic artists, stage management, wardrobe department) to bring together a design which I hope will provide a suitable setting for Brecht’s magnificent play. It’s a tall order! In a few weeks I’ll report back on our progress but in the meantime, costumes will be cut, the set floor will be painted and props will be sourced.

Mother Courage runs from Fri 22 Feb to Sat 9 Mar at The Lowry. More details and tickets can be found here.