THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE
by Bertolt Brecht translated by James and Tania Stern lyrics translated by W H Auden.
Shoreditch Church Shoreditch High Street E1 6JN To 30 September 2012.
Wed-Sat 7.45pm Sun 6pm Mat 28 Sept 2pm.
Runs 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 477 1000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 September.
A Shoreditch hit.
Shoreditch Church was once backed by a notorious slum, so it seems natural its spacious interior has a loose community of homeless people wandering around. A smartly-dressed council official tells them the church will be demolished for new houses. In protest they perform a play showing who should own the land.
The New Rep company aren’t the first to update Bertolt Brecht’s Prologue to The Caucasian Chalk Circle; in early 1970s Liverpool John McGrath set it on a building-site.
Though as it’s claimed the new housing would house the homeless, the problem here’s unclear. More damagingly, Graham Hubbard’s production doesn’t refer to the matter at the end, reverting instead to Brecht’s original argument over a valley.
Still, the large, apparently formless acting area gives a swaggering confidence to the epic story of revolution, escape and the importance of extraordinary individuals: both Grusha, the servant who risks her life to save a deposed Governor’s baby, and Azdak the drunken clerk made judge in turbulent times come from the working people.
Hubbard provides plenty of echt Brechtianism from cartoon-like humour (see the non-divorced couple stalking angrily off) to the reverse-logic, natural to the author, which makes Azdak a forceful character. Neil Stewart has his measure in rough confidence, smiling corruption and contempt for himself and the role of judge, pocketing what he can yet favouring the people who normally don’t get justice.
Hubbard might have developed Azdak’s earlier judgements and self-debasement. But the final coming-together of the story’s strands is sharp and deeply moving. The love for young Michael that Grusha’s learned through her actions pours out in Lydia Grant’s angry defiance of the judge, and is seen as she refuses to pull the boy from the chalk circle.
Gary Jerry’s Michael helps, fine playing by an adult of childhood innocence and confusion, culminating in his surprised pain as two women pull him different ways. It’s a devastating scene concluding an energetic, physically inventive evening, actors doubling as instrumentalists, even the rougher edges in line with the community theatre set-up. Brecht’s been more highly polished but has rarely shone so bright.
Natella Abashvilii/Aniko: Cecilia Colby.
Grusha: Lydia Grant.
Doctor/Blockhead/Lavrenti/Shauva: Paul Harnett.
Simon/Woman 1/Limping Man/Bandit: Thomas Hewitt.
Nurse/Younger Lady/Merchant Woman/Ludovica/Old Woman: Mimi Hope.
Architect 1/Elder Lady/Mother-in-Law/Doctor/Old Woman/Lawyer: Rachel Fletcher-Hudson.
Doctor/Innkeeper/Monk/Tallest Boy/Nephew/Invalid/Farmer/Lawyer: Gary Albert Hughes.
Singer/Rider/Servant/Ironshirt/Staleman/Blackmailer: Mark Irwin.
Fat Prince/Michael/Farmer: Gary Jerry.
Expert/Corporal/Woman 2/Boy: Gary Mitchinson.
Adjutant/Old Man/Woman 3/Grand Duke/Farmer: Guy Moore.
Governor/Peasant Man/Yussup/Azdak: Neil Stewart.
Architect 2/Cook/Peasant Woman/Girl.
Director: Graham Hubbard.
Lighting: Scott Pryce-Jones.
Composer: Neal Swettenham.
Orchestrations/Musical Director: Colin Billing.
Assistant musical director: Gary Jerry.