Writer: Bertolt Brecht
Director: Graham Hubard
Reviewer: Christopher Owen
The Public Reviews Rating:
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Bertolt Brecht, will undoubtedly be known by many, from their years in high school drama classes being force-fed an alternative style of writing. Such memories may put some people off but the New Rep Company have excelled in creating an engaging, interesting, and fresh version of this Brecht classic, that would grip even the hardest-to-convince former students.
The story revolves around the choices of two women; the wife of a governor, whose baby is left and forgotten about when fleeing from her rebellious town, and that of a worker girl named Grusha who acts to look after and eventually adopt and bring up the child. After three years of painful struggle on the run from the law, chasing down the child, Grusha is caught, and brought before a (corrupt misguided) judge, where we are reunited with the Governor’s wife. The court is brought to, to determine who the mother of the child is – one being the lawful birth mother, only after the money that the heir child brings with it, or Grusha, who he knows as mother, who has fought emotionally to keep safe all this time.
The tale is paced brilliantly, and even though is not a musical, is a play with songs – and is performed as an actor-musician show, meaning the cast are always performing right to their limits. We are presented with violins, percussion, a piano, organ, guitars, and a wonderful triangle which bring warmth to the story, making it easier to digest the often overflowing dialogue Brecht can provide. The arrangements by Colin Billing are gorgeous, and really emphasise the largely folky new score that Neal Swettenham has written, to perfection. It is somewhat fitting that Shoreditch Church be the venue chosen for this play (the New Rep Co are resident here ) as the large, echoing space mean the acoustics are great for the unamplified and strong voices on display.
Graham Hubbard (recent resident director of Priscilla in the West End, here showing his diversity) has guided this talented cast to some wonderful character work, and powerful performances – really emphasising, when necessary, the darker parts of the story which really bring home the struggle that Grusha has had, from an unwanted marriage of convenience, to the sexually aggressive soldiers who actively seek out the child. You really feel for her and when the chalk circle test itself comes around, you are thrown into the severity of the situation relentlessly, meaning the climax of the play really hits a hard note. The use of multi character work and simple props, give it a kind of travelling band of players vibe, adapting their surroundings at every venue to fit the story, meaning a touring version of this could literally be performed anywhere and that’s a massive credit to Hubbard’s vision.
The entire cast are a delight to watch, and Lydia Grant, as the central Grusha is utterly compelling. Predominantly a musical theatre actress, her emotion and passion as the pained mother simply through the script were so strong; it was hard not to be in tears with her. Even though the set is minimal, she really made you feel every place she took us was real, both physically and emotionally.
As a play that is still widely studied by arts students all over the country, this production is perfectly suited both to regular theatre audiences, but also to schools and colleges everywhere. It is a new, engaging and highly accessible version, which not only deserves to be seen by more in London, but more all around the country. Any A level student struggling to get to grips with his work, would see Brecht clearly with this version and with tickets at a maximum of £12, this is an absolute steal! Highly recommended and certainly a theatre company to keep your eye on for the future.