The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Review written by Flossie Waite
A Unicorn Production
Unicorn Theatre
For ages 11+
16th January – 21st March 2015

Now is the perfect time for a restaging of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, in a world of benefit cheats and tax evaders, food banks and farmer’s markets. Brecht’s original prologue, about warring rural factions, is scrapped in favour of a ‘chat’ between the actors, a conversation that covers rising global inequality (“The richest 1% own 48% of the wealth”), mass production and Tescos. After all, as the actors explain “This play is about who has the right to have what”.

In the midst of an uprising that kills her husband, the Governor’s wife flees the town, leaving her child. Her servant, Grusha, finds the baby and risks her own life and personal happiness to protect him; running from soldiers, she treks across mountains, crosses glaciers, and even marries a dying soldier. When the war is over, the Governor’s wife returns to seek her son and Grusha fights for the child she has come to love as her own. The man to decide their fate is Azdak, a villager voted judge.

Though lengthy, Amy Leach’s production is tense and absorbing. With a stripped back set, the cast is constantly on stage, showcasing impressive stamina, skills and versatility. But the show-stopping performance is Nabil Shaban as the judge; the play really comes to life in the second half as he manages to carry off this cynical but charming character with a hugely charismatic performance.

So much of Frank McGuinness’s 1997 translation of the script resonates with today (“If you’re poor and freezing, you’re not popular”), even without the pre-play chat setting out the similarities. It’s particularly thrilling to watch this politically-charged production in the run-up to the election.

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