7 thoughts on “Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle on London stage

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  5. Friday 31st March 2017

    posted by Morning Star in Arts

    TOM GRIFFITHS sees a production of a great Brecht play that misses the political point

    The Caucasian Chalk Circle

    Greenwich Theatre

    London SE10


    Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a multilayered exploration of many of his greatest concerns.

    It’s a play about collectivism and ownership but also about theatre itself. And it poses the question: Can we both revolutionise the means of production and theatre itself in the process?

    It begins with a prologue set in the Soviet Union towards the end of WWII, where two collective farms argue for control of some land.

    Eventually, it’s decided that the more productive collective can take it over rather than the one currently in control.

    As a celebration, the successful farm decides to put on the play The Chalk Circle in which, in the midst of war, the serving girl Grusha takes responsibility for the abandoned child of a noble family.

    Fleeing from troops and enduring many hardships, she comes to think of the child as hers. The climax of the play is the trial in which the biological mother returns and contests “ownership” of the child. In the end Grusha, deemed the one most fit to care for it, keeps the baby.

    Throughout, individual characterisation is eschewed for an allegorical rather than realist style, bringing to mind the stylised performance of the play-within-a-play in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. There, “the play’s the thing in which to catch the conscience of the king” but here, though the conscience to be pricked is ours, we are asked if we are able to abandon the “muck of ages,” as Marx called the ideology we have to shed in the revolutionary process.

    Though not rich in character and emotion, the drama is rich in its message. Brecht’s audience is asked to be moved by ideas rather than the “truth” of any particular character’s performance. It’s a gamble and that the sound score for this production is flat and unimaginative is a serious failing.

    There’s much to enjoy in the sense of fun with which Brecht attacks ideas head-on and that comes through sometimes here but, sadly, it’s stifled.

    Brecht makes a courageous all-or-nothing call to arms for any production brave enough to take it on. But the political ideas aren’t the MacGuffin that drive the plot, they are the very heart of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

    As a result, though this production has its merits, it never achieves the power that is should.

    Runs until April 1, box office: greenwichtheatre.org.uk



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