31
Jul
13

An Experiment With The Caucasian Chalk Circle

 

An Experiment With The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Backbone & Artslink

Adapted and Directed by Marcel Dorney

 

Featuring Sarah McLeod & Zachary Boulton

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

I was lucky enough to see An Experiment With The Caucasian Chalk Circle on Friday 26th July 2013 at Caloundra City Private School on the Sunshine Coast. When I turned up early, the teacher and students thought I was the artist they were expecting from Backbone, there to run a workshop. I told them I’d love to come back to work with them another time, but that I was there to review the show they were about to see.

 

In an unassuming science lab-turned-drama room, two talented performers from Backbone blew my mind, in Marcel Dorney’s brilliant adaption of Berthold Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The experiment? An unqualified success.

 

chalkcircle_backbone

 

Two women both claim the child. But what makes a mother?

A chalk circle is drawn on the ground. But to whom does the ground belong?

The women each take one of the child’s arms. Why should we care who lets go first?

Brecht’s legacy is not what he did. It’s what he makes us do. This experiment with The Caucasian Chalk Circle drills to the engine of the text and rebuilds it. Equipped with a few bolts of cloth and a piece of chalk, one female and one male actor describe the paths of Grusha and Azdak and determine the fate of the lost child.

 

Studying Brecht is hard. It is. Not because Brecht is hard to understand – well, maybe a little – but because so many teachers are either a) tired of teaching him or b) have never quite felt the level of passion for Brecht that they have done in other areas of the Drama curriculum. Stories of boredom seem to filter down from the older students to the current year levels, they see an old-school “traditional” performance or something so new and “contemporary” it makes little sense in their world, and by the time one has the time to actually focus on Mother Courage or The Caucasian Chalk Circle, students are often very “whatever” about it! But they haven’t seen it like this. And it’s my guess that very few teachers have had the privilege of seeing it like this.

 

Trust me. This is the best buy-in for Senior Drama I’ve ever seen. Book it now.

 

This neat little show is like no other performance you or your students have experienced. Adapted and directed by Marcel Dorney, Backbone’s production is, as well as being an outstanding performance by two versatile young actors, a thorough theoretical and emotional exploration, analysis and summation of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, its themes and its characters.

 

The tale, as we know, is timeless because who is ever the rightful mother of a child? And how do we prove love? That’s right. By letting go. And the climax, as we hoped it would be, is the perfect combination of exquisite pain, satisfaction and relief, even after early (and recurring) Zombie jokes, and a cracking pace, allowing the actors to utilise every physical theatre and contemporary performance trick in the book to share their take on the story.

 

The success of this production is three-fold. First, the performers (Sarah McLeod & Zachary Boulton) are sensational – warm, funny, intriguing, and completely convincing in their characterisations, despite their transgender swaps, which happen quite often and have the audience in stitches. Second, the setting is wherever you have a quiet space to put on a show, and students have the opportunity to observe the way ordinary things in an ordinary place are used in symbolism and storytelling to transport an audience. Third, the adaption of Brecht’s script is masterful, and the direction so insightful you’ll be just as surprised as your students by some of the revelations in it.

 

Importantly, there is nothing condescending or ordinary about this production, though much of the original text is used, so even the students who are more familiar with the play will discover new points of view, new ways of looking at each dilemma, and those who skipped the pre-performance reading that you set for homework the previous week will not only follow the play with ease, but be mesmerised by it and recall accurately, all major plot points. An interesting exercise would be to identify where the actors stop and explain something, or use an example from their own lives to illustrate Brecht’s big points. Their timely pauses don’t slow the pace, and rather than taking away from the enjoyment, enrich the experience. In fact, I can’t help but notice that each time Sarah and Zachary stop to speak directly to their audience – and their connection with the students is electric – there are actually heads nodding in agreement!

 

I didn’t want to take my eyes off the performers for a moment, but I enjoyed glancing over to see ten or more boys, for a full 60 minutes, completely captivated amongst the audience of around twenty-five students from Year 9 – Year 12. They were so absorbed in the story, and their teacher was so impressed with the performance and their acceptance of it, that she quipped about being done with Mother Courage and making the set text for her students the following year The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Indeed, with its study of ethical behaviour, politics, and human character and relationships, it’s certainly my preferred piece, especially when we have such a rich resource at our fingertips in the form of Backbone’s An Experiment With The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

 

 

Touring in Term 4: Mackay, Townsville, Charters Towers, Cairns

 

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