Not many people know that Diana Rigg has smoked a pipe for years.
The habit certainly stands her in good stead for the role of the briar-puffing black marketeer and resourceful single parent Mother Courage, who thrives in the theatre of war.
The transformation of the glamorous Dame Diana into Brecht's indomitable old bag, peasant symbol of survival at such a terrible cost, comes as quite a shock.
She's very much cast against type in Jonathan Kent's clear and powerful revival, which makes thrilling use of all the resources of the vast Olivier stage. She plucks a chicken, swears like a trooper and hits men full in the face.
But then Rigg has always had a toughness and pragmatism about her; She could never play a milksop.
And though the teeth are white and the cheekbones beautiful, this most patrician of actresses makes a remarkably convincing harridan with a hoarse North Country accent.
Behind Rigg's gruff and manly stocism, you glimpse real vulnerability and pain. The other great surprise comes with David Hare's superbly earthy new translation, whose gallows humour is only too appropriate to the war zone.
It's the first time I can recall finding Brecht funny... with a serious purpose behind the bitter jokes.
And Jonathan Dove's arrangements of the songs evoke the bitter ironies of Oh What A Lovely War! on a timeless landscape lit up by vivid tableaux.
In a strongly-cast production, there's fine support from David Bradley, Geoffrey Hutchings and Lesley Sharp above all.