The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Wed 2nd – Sat 5th November 2011

reviews

Joe Nicholson

at 23:18 on 2nd Nov 2011

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Sam Plumb’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” is a lively, engaging adaptation of Brecht’s script, well worth a see this week.

The story of the “Chalk Circle” is, within the play, framed by an opening scene of two rival farms in a ruined Caucasian village, which offers the cast their first opportunity to shine. The actors are tightly knit and energetic, with seamless movement on stage, and as the play goes on we see just how well choreographed their movements are.

Moving into the story proper through the guiding music of Dylan Townley, the audience is quickly wrapped up in a fast-paced and amusing performance. All through the narrative of the piece the actors engage extremely well with the audience, maintaining a comfortable mood from start to finish. The audience is thus completely at ease with the cast members who move amongst the seating arranged around the stage’s perimeter, breaking the fourth wall throughout with cheerful and conspiratorial glances and whispers to those watching.

The script is brought to life well, with the entire audience being offered a sample of goat’s cheese during the frame scene of the village, and cast members casually moving amongst us: Archie Cornish’s likeable Simon even asked me to admire his coat on one occasion. More credit is deserved for the way in which the whole performance embraces the limitations of the BT Studio with gusto- one example which provoked a smile was a cheeky use of a sign saying “red sky” to evoke effect on numerous occasions. Puppetry was used smoothly and allowed the production to balance its lively air with more powerful resonances of the narrative.

Brecht’s script is itself wonderful, but the cast succeed in bringing both the moments of irony and caricature to life amongst much more poignant episodes: both Dylan Townley’s music and Douggie Perkins’ skilful lighting deserve a mention. A scene in which Ashleigh Wheeler’s Grusha is crossing a ravine is played out very well, balancing tension with the enthusiastic and larger-than-life mood characteristic of the production as a whole. Nevertheless, Barraclough’s Ludovica and Laurie Blair’s Azdak engage in a mock-sex scene in the later trial episode to the extended mirth of the audience, accompanied by cheesy yet hilarious music. Another memorable scene between Barraclough and Wheeler in which they play caricatured Iron Men proves that the production succeeds in entertaining.

There were, however, a few line slips, just numerous enough to be noticeable, as well as some ambiguous communication between Dylan Townley and certain other cast members. Nevertheless, this only slightly mars the professionalism of the production as a whole: holding an appearance of effortlessness amongst flawless vocals and a truly engaging cast, Plumb’s direction reaches a very worthy adaptation of Brecht’s intelligent and heart-warming classic, which was truly a pleasure to watch.

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Sara Pridgeon

at 11:13 on 3rd Nov 2011

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Bertolt Brecht’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”, brought to the BT stage by director Sam Plumb, was, simply put, a lot of fun. Though intelligent and moralizing, the production was also light and very entertaining, carried by an energetic and charismatic cast. The cast shared the space and worked together very well – the choreography required to pull off the scenes and quick scene changes was not over rehearsed; their movements seemed natural, spontaneous. The performance was wonderfully energetic, and the audience had no trouble sharing in it – we were invited to join in as characters looked to us for support and approval, whispered to us about their joys and their troubles, and even asked us to hold various props for them. Archie Cornish as Simon was particularly enjoyable to watch in this regard – I couldn’t help but grin as he asked me to admire his coat, or if I had a necklace he could use to proclaim his love to Grusha. I felt more like a friend than an audience member – we weren’t merely watching the show, we were part of it.

The use of music was very effective – as the narrator, Dylan Townley’s music provided structure and helped set the tone for the evening – nothing too polished, but instead casual, comfortable. This was reflected across the production but especially in the design elements – Azdak (a spot on performance from Laurie Blair) wore a flowered woman’s dressing gown for his judge’s robes, and the “red sky” referred to in the script was evoked by a sign (two pieces of A4 held up by Cornish offstage in the corner) that read “red sky” in red type. The use of puppetry, though more poignant, was of the same slightly haphazard nature, and it, too, was well realized. Ashleigh Wheeler effectively brought her puppet-son to life with her convincing performance as Grusha. Cassie Barraclough deserves a mention for her truly nasty portrayal of the Governor’s Wife – her nature came across perfectly as she tried to choose which clothes to take with her, and fled, eventually, with material objects, but without her son.

More than anything, this was a show that truly seemed to be enjoying itself. The performances from the cast were solid, and it was a treat to watch the actors shift between their various roles; they were adept at playing vastly different characters within the space of a few minutes. Unfortunately, there were several line slips and lags in delivery – not many, but enough for us to notice – as well as a few distracting and slightly confusing instances in which the cast seemed to be communicating with each other offstage; I wasn’t sure if these were meant to be part of the performance, or if certain actors were being reminded of something they needed to do for the next scene. All in all, however, Plumb’s production made for a fantastic evening – this was theatre where I felt completely at ease, where we were swept up in this charismatic performance of Brecht’s classic - it was a truly communal experience.

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