Rose Theatre, Kingston – until 22 October 2022
While Christopher Haydon’s production is filled with playfulness, it feels also as though it has too many ideas crammed into it, making it feel a little confusing in places.
Watching this rustic and playful take of Brecht’s play, somehow it is difficult not to draw upon parallels between the world today and the world in which the play was set around and this is what Steve Waters’ adaptation and Christopher Haydon’s production do so well – but it also feels slightly bloated and muddled in places.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle uses the device of a play within a play to help to frame the main part of the story, which is a story that examines what it means to be a mother, justice and on an even deeper level of what it means to be a displaced person (which seems very timely given the current state of the world). The audience is taken to a country that is in the middle of a civil war, the horror of which deepens after the murder of the governor, forcing his wife to flee – leaving their son behind. However, the governor’s maid, the quiet and unassuming Grusha is left to take care of the baby and undertakes a dangerous journey to try and create a life in an uncertain world.
One of the production’s strengths is the incorporation of music and song, with Michael Henry’s wonderful folksy score intertwining perfectly with the The Singer’s narration of the story. It also allows in many instances Carrie Hope Fletcher to make use of her strong and charming vocals to capture the character’s need to find hope eve in the darkest of days and it feels genuine and sincere. However, I do also feel that particularly in the second act too much reliance is put on the musical aspect to try and carry the story through – which doesn’t quite pay off as the second act is on a very different vibe and perspective and can make it feel a little confusing to keep up with.
Through his adaptation, Waters manages to keep things light, which is no easy task given the heaviness of the story and there is a sense of playfulness that I wasn’t expected to find – particularly through the way in which the characters are brought to life with a surprising childlike joy by many of the ensemble cast. I did feel that some scenes could have been tightened up a lot more, particularly in the first act which felt slightly drawn out.
Every aspect of Haydon’s production is extremely ambitious and the cast certainly rise to the occasion. At the centre of it all Hope Fletcher demonstrates great strength in her performance as Grusha, in a performance that demonstrates her vast capabilities as an actress, while of course vocally capturing a wide range of emotions as the character embarks on her journey. But she is surrounded by strong support including Nickcolia King-N’da as Simon, Ronny Jhutti as the despicably nasty corporal and Shiv Rabheru as Laverenti adding warmth to proceedings. But all of the cast manage to switch and delve deep into a number of different characters effectively, making them distinctive enough to be able to keep up with who is who.
There is certainly plenty to be admired about this production but as mentioned, some of the scenes could have been tightened up more to keep the production feeling pacy – particularly with regards to the use of music. An ambitious production with high quality performances at its core does enough to keep audiences invested in the story’s outcome.
By Emma Clarendon
The Caucasian Chalk Circle continues to play at the Rose Theatre until the 22nd October.
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