The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht. Directed by David Clapham for Moonlight at ANU Arts Centre Drama Studio, April 30, May 1 and May 4-8, 2004, 8pm (matinee May 8 2pm)
The ANU drama scene has expanded. The Theatre Studies course has long supported Papermoon, mainly as a town-and-gown link. Now senior lecturer Tony Turner has helped Theatre Studies graduates set up Moonlight by providing a small budget and the DramaLab space for them to continue performing apres uni.
As a gown-and-town link, Moonlight has an academic framework. Each year a selection of works by a noted playwright will be presented. For this year's program The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Mother Courage and her Children (August) and The Good Person of Setzuan (September-October) are central to Brecht's work and highly accessible for a general audience.
Beginning with Brecht is a worthwhile challenge for graduates of a course which is not designed to produce fully-trained actors. This production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a success for its sincerity of purpose. The essential theme concerning the nature of justice in a world of social inequalities is clearly developed, particularly through Steph Brewster's presentation of the role of Grusha.
What is missing is the tight timing needed for the flow of Brecht's epic theatre, especially in the travelling scenes of the first half. Design and direction also needed Brecht's "literalisation" techniques. Banners with scene titles and the words of songs would balance the emotional aspects of scenes with the intellectual recognition, for example, of the oppositional nature of society, much of which was lost because actors and singers did not have the clarity of enunciation which would be expected of professionals.
Though the performers had a reasonable idea of the epic style, only Ruth Pickard as Shauwa, Azdak's assistant, maintained the proper degree of expressionistic acting that Brecht requires. There is a particular skill in avoiding the pitfalls of naturalism and melodrama which Brecht wrote about and taught in his Berliner Ensemble productions. Moonlighters will need to do more study to find the right fine line, the edge that epic theatre needs.
It is good to make these plays available. They are essential viewing to understand modern theatre, and this production is quite successful enough for a worthwhile and often enjoyable evening.
© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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