Review: The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Presenter: Black Swan State Theatre Company
By Kitty Turpin
It’s a bit of a cliché to say The Caucasian Chalk Circle was not what I expected, but I’m going to say it anyway: it wasn’t what I expected.
Coming into the theatre with little to no knowledge of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, I was delighted to be greeted with a somewhat upbeat and hilarious three hour play following the story of sincere and caring kitchen maid Grusha, and her adventure to protect the Governor’s son Michael, who becomes her own.
Grusha, played by Alex Malone, is a kitchen maid faced with a tough decision in the midst of a war – keep the Governor’s son, who was carelessly abandoned by his mother, or leave the babe to die. On her journey she meets many interesting and unique characters with stand out performances from Kenneth Ransom, in his short role as “The Old Man”, and Geoff Kelso as “Azdak”, who was undoubtedly the highlight of the production.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle starts out rather slow – introducing its main characters and plot through a strange mix of dialogue and modern western style music. The actors run a lot across the stage, which created a sense of urgency the first few times I experienced it. However, it soon got stale. But slowly and steadily, elements of humour are introduced that intertwine with Grusha’s tragic circumstances. There is an expert balance of tragedy and comedy in The Caucasian Chalk Circle – enough tragedy to make us feel for Grusha and “her” child through their trials, and enough comedy to make us feel light and unencumbered by the seriousness of the story.
Director Dr. Wang Xiaoying has carefully and expertly fused a diverse range of cultures from Chinese-style stage processes, costume and scenery, to local Indigenous musicians playing Southeast Asian percussive styles, and of course Black Swan State Theatre Company’s Australian acting troupe. The way Dr. Xiaoying has merged these cultures has provided a strong culturally cooperative foundation. I doubt that without his unique experience from the National Theatre of China this production’s elements would have come together in such a successful manner.
The Black Swan State Theatre Company has done it again. The Caucasian Chalk Circle is an immersive experience and an all round good time.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle will be showing at the Heath Ledger Theatre until August 14. For more information visit the Black Swan State Theatre Company website.