Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Before the opening of Mark Thomson's new production of Bertolt Brecht's late-period masterpiece, seen here in a new translation by Alistair Beaton, the large ensemble cast begin to mill about the auditorium. Dressed down in jeans and hoodies, they chat with the audience as they enter, or else warm up their accordion playing in the box seats above Karen Tennant's expansive set, left wide-open with pianos and a drum kit arranged around a gallows and some pillars.

As a plummy-voiced civil service type attempts to foster social engineering in a war-ravaged village, Sarah Swire's rock diva narrator breezes onstage, and the villagers become a multi-tasking musical theatre troupe, playing out the plight of servant girl Grusha, who flees an uprising with her Imelda Marcos-like mistress's forgotten child after pledging herself to soldier Simon. With Grusha's survival dependent on others, her story eventually gives way to that of Azdak, a village eccentric turned accidental judge, who must decide the fate of both Grusha and the child her blood mother wants returned.

With the business of bad governments at a global premium just now, there is no better time for a production of Brecht's epic, which Thomson invests with warmth and sensitivity rarely seen in Brecht. With much of the cast cross-dressing with Monty Python style glee, Christopher Fairbanks' court-room shenanigans borders on Carry On, while Amy Manson invests Grusha with a heady
vulnerability.

It is Claire McKenzie's live score, however, that powers the narrative, and Swire leads the cast with a mix of punk folk fury, Country laments and out and out swing in an all too necessary display of strength through joy.
 
The Herald, February 25th 2015

ends


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