Surely most people have heard of Brecht. Those that have should have also heard of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”; a simple plot concerning the parenthood of a child. Is it the biological mother? Perhaps it is the governess, who can cater for all the material needs of the child? Or maybe even the servant-girl who cannot always provide shelter, but can give him plenty of love? Azdak, a somewhat unorthodox judge, plans a simple test by putting the child in the circle and declaring that whomever pulls him out is the true mother. Thus, Brecht’s morals are revealed: whoever cares most for something is its true owner.
This performance is certainly one which challenges all boundaries, with intriguing direction from Daniel Downes. The actors chatted to the audience as they came in and invited us to peruse the stage before the performance. I was trying to remember whether this was a Brechtian thing to do; certainly he wanted the audience to remember that they were watching a play so as not to connect with it too much. The entire cast should be congratulated, all taking on several parts masterfully, flipping between personalities and stereotypes. We could never forget that they weren’t people but, instead, just actors, with Grusha ‘forgetting’ her lines and reading from the script at one point, and the costumes kept at the back of the stage with actors changing whilst on stage. Despite the Narrator addressing the audience, as do all the characters, we are still distanced from then and can maintain an objective view.
The child being fought over was a puppet, and was one of the most ingenious props I’ve ever seen. While we would expect it to pull at the puppet strings rather than the heartstrings, somehow this play manages to allow us to connect emotionally with it, despite it being a construction. We are left questioning whether blood really is thicker than water, and what it means to really care for someone.
The performance as a construction was mirrored in the set: graffiti was used, and so was scaffolding at the back, separating the costume rail. This isn’t realistic theatre. Costume was likewise symbolic, with a simple luxurious shawl, standing for a palace’s wealth. I did, however think that the peasants being dressed in black, made them lack personality but perhaps this is so we are detached from them further.
Modern pop and rock and roll music was used at scene changes; although ‘Baby Love‘ and ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ seems an incongruous opening to a serious trial, it did lighten the mood. Humour was always at hand to destroy serious moments, again blocking us from becoming emotionally attached in intense scenes.
Lighting did however offer a chance for the audience to connect emotionally. A white spotlight was used to great effect in charged moments, placing emphasis on death, and strobe lighting heightened a sense of danger, drawing attention to our anxieties as the audience.
So, I am left pondering, does this play follow or abandon typical Brechtian style? One thing I don’t need to question however was my enjoyment of it. My recommendation: go and see it, it will definitely give you a few things to think about.
Images by Cesar Teixeira