REVIEW: THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE (Greenwich Theatre) ★★★★
Brecht was a German Marxist playwright and poet. He died in 1956 at the comparatively young age of 58 years, having survived the Second World War. He believed that a play should not cause the spectator to identify emotionally with the characters or action before them, but should instead provoke rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage.
Brecht’s plays, very much reflected his nature. They are cold, austere and full of Marxist attitude.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is, in some ways, a typical piece of Brecht’s work. Mankind helpless against an authoritarian regime and the innate goodness of the ordinary people. Distribution of wealth to those who are most worthy rather than those who merely happen to own it.
The play is in three parts ( if you don’t count a lady member of the cast handing out biscuits at the beginning) consisting of a prologue and the telling of two separate stories, by a “singer”, at a celebration party held by the peasants. It takes place shortly after the cessation of Second World War hostilities.
The prologue, concerns rival claims to the ownership of a valley, between the pre-war owners who were goatherds and some more progressive fruit farmers. The fruit farmers have plans for irrigation of the valley and will produce more food and are hence given the land even though it was not originally owned by them. The peasants have a celebratory party at which the Singer is persuaded to tell the two stories which comprise the Caucasian Chalk Circle story.
Then, a play within a play occurs in which a kitchen maid called Grusha saves the District Governor’s baby, Michael, when a local struggle breaks out between the Governor and his brother The Fat Prince. The Governor is assassinated and, in escaping the danger, the babies mother, Natella, who is a spoilt Jealous woman, is forced to abandon her baby and so the kindly and reliable Grusha steps in to look after the child and becomes it’s de facto mother.
Throughout the play it is clear that the greater good is considered more important than who actually owns, either the valley or the baby. A true Marxist philosophy. Marxism has however, fallen out of favor throughout most of the world and is now it is it’s self, identified with totalitarianism.
It is hard to judge such a play. It is difficult to understand what is happening at times and is a constant strain on the audience’s powers of concentration. The story as described above is just the bare bones of a much richer and more complex play.
The acting tends towards naturalistic, pretty much as per Brecht’s Philosophy and you are not offered easy solutions. Again, as per Brecht’s instructions, the stage is kept bleak and simple. The Lazarus Theatre Company have succeeded in producing a fine ambitious production with excellent acting and production. They deserve the heartiest of congratulations.
Reviewed by Graham Archer