Tuesday, November 29

The Caucasian Chalk Circle – The Rose Theatre, Kingston

The first major London production of Bertolt Brecht’s for 25 years, The Caucasian Chalk Circle tells the story of a young woman, Grusha (Carrie Hope Fletcher), who risks everything to save the Governor and his wife’s abandoned child, Michael (Daniel Aiden Matembe), in the midst of a bloody revolution. Years later, the child’s mother (Joanna Kirkland) demands custody of Michael and Grusha is faced before the corrupt Judge Azdak (Jonathan Slinger) who is in control of Michael’s fate.

As the audience file in, they are met with the set of an industrial warehouse, forming the base of a refugee camp. Bunk beds are present on stage which become clever, prominent and multi usage props throughout the show. The actors are on stage before the show commences, intriguing the audience.

Beginning in the refugee camp, the show takes a little time to become Brecht’s ‘play within a play’ with the help of The Singer and her acoustic guitar (Zoe West). At first, the setting is slightly confused but morphs into the fictional Grusinia, where a revolution is taking place. The nine performers on stage effortlessly transition into over fifty characters between them, displaying huge diversity in their skills. In particular, the physicality, voice work and characterisation of each ensemble member was incredibly distinctive and accurate, making each character change engaging.

A standout throughout the performance was the use of acapella to create the melody of the songs, aiding the folk storytelling. Voices in the ensemble paired with clapping or stamping created a trancelike tune, both powerful and compelling. The Singer using acoustic guitar throughout was a simple way to incorporate music and provide tension in the show. However, at times The Singer as an artistic tool and the melodies felt slightly repetitive and elongated further the show’s running time.

A surprise to the audience were the comedic moments in the show, particularly where a marriage takes place and Shiv Rabheru entertains with some slapstick comedy. More notable humorous moments were between the two guard characters, played by Ronny Jhutti and Adeola Yemitan.

Fletcher captured the desperation in Grusha, particularly when she was able to demonstrate her controlled yet powerful singing voice and soft tone, her vibrato choices fitting the folklike nature of the songs. The short duet between The Singer and Grusha was a breath-taking moment, leaving the audience wanting more harmonies between the performers.

The whole stage is used, including the balcony at the top of the theatre, which can only be accessed by climbing a ladder. The ladders are used on multiple occasions, an inventive and exciting way of moving around the stage diverting the audience’s gaze. While the first Act feels unnecessarily extended, the show manages to create a somewhat satisfying conclusion, although the performance could be more succinct overall. With rapid costume changes, impeccably flawless actors, staging and lighting, the show’s artistic choices are innovative and effective making The Caucasian Chalk Circle worth experiencing.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is currently showing at The Rose Theatre, Kingston until 22nd October 2022, tickets can be purchased from: https://rosetheatre.org/whats-on/the-caucasian-chalk-circle/book-tickets  

Reviewer: Maani Way

Reviewed: 6th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★