The Caucasian Chalk Circle at Rose Theatre
Set against the backdrop of a Russian conflict resolution, the refugee camp in Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle becomes the stage on which the themes of family, loyalty and war are explored in this adaptation by Steve Waters.
Directed by Christopher Haydon, and with music by Michael Henry, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is not a play for the faint-hearted. The refugees put on a show about a young woman who risks everything for the abandoned child of the governor’s wife, only to find that, after many years, the governor’s wife wants the child back and a dispute ensues.
The narrative is set across five episodes that are completely divorced from one another, highlighting the fragmented nature of the situation the refugees find themselves in. There are some instances where the production begins to feel like a pantomime, for example, when the Singer (played by Zoe West) requests “someone who can sing” to play the role of Grusha; an overzealous Carrie Hope Fletcher is gesticulating wildly to be chosen. Perhaps this is done for comic relief, however, it is not executed well, and feels as though Fletcher was chosen to be a part of the show simply because of her voice.
However, if this was the case, Fletcher quickly proves that she can do straight acting in her own right – and excel at it – as she undertakes the role of Grusha. Of course, her voice is phenomenal, but her moments of interaction with the baby in the play evoke emotion in even the most stoic members of the audience.
The entire cast makes the show work, donning many hats with seamless changes from one character to the next. Special mention must be made of their dialect shifts as well; maintaining a new accent every time a character changes not only helps the audience to know there has been a change but is also a feat of the actors’ control over their craft. This is best highlighted by Shiv Rabheru, whose quick changes offer much of the comedy in the first half.
The placing of the interval is something quite crucial to the flow of a play. There are many times when the first half could end, which would help the show to be better appreciated, however, audiences are won over by the character of Azdak, expertly played by Jonathan Slinger. It is such a pleasure to see him at work on the stage, commanding the audience with wit, fervour and gravitas.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle brings into view the larger question of ownership and belonging, both as individuals (is our family the one we are related to by blood or those who are there through all life’s turmoil?) and as a people. One thing that is clear in that the beautiful and necessary ending is the theme of preservation: if something means that much, why destroy it? Surely it should exist in a way that retains what is best, rather than tearing a land – a people – apart, due to stubbornness and greed.
Photo: Iona Firouzabadi
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is at Rose Theatre from 1st October until 22nd October 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch a behind-the-scenes about the production here: