Bringing back an old tale by Bertolt Brecht, first premiered in 1948, Rose Theatre, Kingston are retelling the story, with The Caucasian Chalk Circle making a return to the stage, with this new version by Steve Waters, directed by Christopher Haydon.
The set is immediately striking and intriguing from earliest sight, as its grey, metallic tones set the atmosphere for the beginning being in an asylum base. With a higher layer used effectively as characters frequently climbed ladders up there, the piles of boxes and muted palette sets the darkness for upcoming themes.
As a narrative with elements of relevance still today, this 'play within a play' becomes a bit avant garde as the divisive communities are introduced to a performer that helps them put on a show. Establishing the characters within this (and again at the start of the second act) proves difficult, and therefore confusing to gather the plot if unfamiliar, but once understanding, it is an interesting and unusual watch. With war breaking out in the midst of revolution, a killed Governor and a wanted baby, a young lost girl is drawn to a fate that grows ever more complicated, the longer it lasts. Will the ultimate test prove to rule in her favour?
Carrie Hope Fletcher stars as the lead in her first play: a fact of which is not apparent through her expertise and prowess radiating across the space. As Grusha, she displays rich depth of character, while still often managing to demonstrate her skilled vocals through the original songs by Michael Henry, despite the piece not claiming to be a musical. Featuring acapella/body percussion style tracks, the production thrives on using these to enhance the theatricality and choreography of movement around- in this case- a large stage. The metal beds act as a variety of props within the story too: from gates to glaciers. Others appear from a suitcase, to mimic them being part of a casual acting class, and most significantly, a teddy bear left by a small boy at the very opening of the sequence that represents the baby going forward.
Holding the performance together with their narration, Zoe West becomes The Singer, who drives the piece forward, and splitting it into sections. Each other cast member plays various different roles throughout, and executes these well. There are sections, however, that perhaps are not required, or need more explanation to ensure they fit more succinctly. Additionally, it may have been a nice conclusion to return to the original scene, before the inner play began, to give it more purpose, and generate a cyclical structure, though the ending provided was sweet and meaningful too.
In all, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a sophisticated story with lots to offer, though requires much thought to decipher at points, that may not appeal to the masses.