Brecht’s tale of revolution, tragedy and mother’s love is an acquired taste. It tells the story of Grusha; a servant girl, who takes care of a small boy abandoned by his wealthy mother in the wake of his father’s murder. The plot which ends with an echo of the Biblical Judgement of Solomon feels familiar, but Brecht’s presentation of events makes it remarkable.
The Playhouse’s production is visibly Brechtian: characters arrive on horseback, stamping their feet and neighing, a bridge is made by two men holding ropes and the child Michael is played by a slightly ghoulish doll. These overtly theatrical touches are very different to the naturalistic style of theatre to which we are accustomed, and therefore can initially seem strange or amateurish. However if embraced these dramatic flourishes give the performance vitality.
The second half had greater dynamism than the first, in part due to a stellar performance by the judge Azdak (in the first half he is the Singer, faintly reminiscent of a cruise-ship entertainer). He made what is a very bleak tale at times boisterously funny.
The production only fell down with the use of the doll/puppet/child. Obviously a stylistic choice, it could have been off-putting to anyone unfamiliar with Brecht. However, it was a testament to the acting that despite the doll the story was still engaging.
‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’ is a night at the theatre; with singing, dancing, and a puppet. Its refreshingly simple story has great charm, energy and rusticity. There is a community feel to the performance, its pantomime leanings tapered by tragedy.