THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE
by Bertolt Brecht translated by Alistair Beaton.
Royal Lyceum Theatre Grindlay Street EH3 9AX To 14 March 2015.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
Audio-described 5 Mar (+ Touch Tour 6.15pm), 7 Mar 20m (+ Touch Tour 12.45pm).
BSL Signed 11 Mar 7.30pm.
Captioned 14 Mar 2pm.
Post-show Discussion 3 Mar.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 0131 248 4848.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 February.
The woman’s story, the man’s story; politics and drama. This fine production squares the circle.
Something about this elegant Victorian theatre, pillar of Scotand’s dramatic establishment, suits Bertolt Brecht’s socially subversive play. Way back in 1979 the Lyceum hosted the Edinburgh International Festival visit by the Rustaveli Company, from Stalin’s homeland, Georgia. Then, more than now, Britain saw Brecht as hard-edged, aggressively didactic, every point to be hammered home as actors taught audiences political awareness.
Yet instead of piling austerity on severity Robert Sturua’s production was beautiful to watch and delightful to listen to. Lyceum Artistic Director Mark Thomson achieves much the same, probably with considerably fewer resources. British actors’ skills and theatre audiences’ responses have developed, so that the old ‘epic’ battlegrounds now lie at peace. There’s nothing startling, let alone disruptive about seeing actors blow their own trumpets (and play other instruments) and sing – probably while shifting the furniture.
Casting necessities have habituated us to cross-sex playing. Thomson uses it as Brecht originally used masks. The Governor’s Wife, concerned for her clothes more than her child is played by a man, the fat and venial Prince Kazbeki by a woman. It’s subtly done; slight unease with sexual identity grows to awareness of the disparity, creating a sense of falseness which contrasts more sympat5hetic characters, like John Kielty’s ineffectually benevolent Lavrenti.
And, overwhelmingly, the two protagonists. With cuts either in, or to, Aliustair Beaton’s effective translation there’s still a lot of action. Yet time stands still, even during a revolution, as young palace servant Grusha sits, apparently for hours, internally debating whether to risk saving Governor’s son Michael, thereby bringing trouble on herself.
Amy Manson’s concentration is matched by Grusha’s later practical intelligence. And worker-turned-judge Azdak has a cunning thoughtfulness in Christopher Fairbanks’ performance. He’s not as rowdily assertive as some Azdaks, but makes the point that disorder allows accidental justice to briefly surface.
Propelled by Sarah Swire’s Singer, telling the onstage story in hard and soft styles, it’s overall a mighty achievement. Moving the interval slightly forward blunts the urgency of Grusha’s later decision over Michael, but the culminating chalk circle trial, while making Brecht’s wider point, is also a deeply human crisis.
Sergeant/Cook and others: Deborah Arnott.
Puppeteer/Michael and others: Adam Bennett.
Mother/Lawyer and others: Andrew Bridgmont.
Prince Kazbeki/Aniko and others: Shirley Darroch.
Jussup/Shauva and others: Eamonn O’Dwyer.
Azdak and others: Christopher Fairbank.
Young Woman/Lawyer and others: Karen Fishwick.
Monk/Ludovica and others: Liam Gerrard.
Lavrenti and others: John Kielty.
Simon and others: Buchan Lennon.
Grusha: Amy Manson.
Singer: Sarah Swire.
Governor’s Wife/Innkeeper and others: Jon Trenchard.
Director: Mark Thomson.
Designer: Karen Tennent.
Lighting: Simon Wilkinson.
Composer/Musical Director: Claire McKenzie.