Posts Tagged ‘political theatre


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.




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



Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman

Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman

Queensland Theatre Company & QPAC

Brisbane Powerhouse

26th May – 24th June 2012

How strange, to pit the fragility and reality of a fascinating woman against a comedic mashup that distracts and detracts from the fragility and reality of the woman!

Nobel Prize winning playwright, Dario Fo, has done just that with Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman and Director, Wesley Enoch, has had a field day with it. Freely adapted and translated by Luke Deverish and Louise Fox (who were commissioned by Malthouse Theatre for their production at the Merlyn in 2010), this version is updated and localised to an even greater degree by the most vocal and forward thinking Artistic Director our state theatre company has seen. A champion for local audiences as much as for local artists, Enoch has glued together so many different elements in staging this outrageous production that there is surely something for everyone.

Bawdy comedy and ludicrous antics fill the guts of what would otherwise be a pale, skinny corpse of a drama. I’m not a Fo fan, however, I marvel at the cunning way so many political entrails are unmercifully tossed at us throughout his plays.  (And I do love a bit of commedia dell’arte, some good old slapstick and bold, brash, silly comedy from time to time!).

Despite comedic influences ranging from farce to pantomime to commedia to slapstick (Scott Witt, as Clowning/Slapstick Consultant, has a hand in this and Enoch’s Bonzani troupe experience is obvious), the work avoids getting stuck in any one form for long. It remains unboxed, resisting packaging or prettying up. (It IS pretty, though, thanks to Simone Romaniuk’s sumptuous design; the lavish costumes and simple set are magnificent). It is what it is and we either love it or hate it. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. My first thought was that the show begs a stricter hand…one to pull it back a little. A fabulous and fun rehearsal strategy, we often let the actors take things as far as they are willing to go. It’s sometimes a challenge to put a stop to it and ask that they back off a little. Indeed, you may well ask, “WHY?” when what is happening on stage is clearly working for the vast majority of the audience. I suspect that the question more often asked in the rehearsal studio was, “WHY NOT?” When you see this show you might be convinced that the lewdness and bawdy humour is at precisely the right level, if not slightly underdone! For me, it is too many things at once and often just too, too, too OTT. But look, it’s mostly hilarious and I laughed a LOT.

The updated political gags are quick, witty and localised, thanks to the free reign given any company with the rights for this show; Fo wouldn’t have it any other way. His political theatre is continuously evolving, challenging and inspiring public thought and action. These local references will have you chortling (or wondering what everybody else finds so amusing, depending on your knowledge and understanding of current affairs of state). Well, we do love a “CAN DO” moment at the moment, don’t we?!

Updating a theatrical work is a bit like creating your own promotional images, inspired by the originals, in order to publicise your show, or the liberty taken by anybody ever, when re-writing I’ve Got a Little List for The Mikado. It’s absolutely intended and indeed, it’s necessary, to keep the content fresh, accurate and relevant. In his Director’s Note, Enoch explains, “Dario Fo believes in engaging in the world and allows the artists involved to improvise and modify the scripts to reflect their socio-political environments.”

Enoch has assembled intelligent actors who love to play. There is a real sense of it and along with the obvious camaraderie; this sense of play will keep the show fresh as a daisy up to and including closing night. I often wonder what a show will be like by the end of its run and if I had the time, this is certainly a show I’d like to see again. It feels like it’s ever changing and almost as if it’s not quite ready for us but, hell, we’ll let you see it anyway. And that’s okay. That’s part of the fun, as if we’d been let into the rehearsal space for a glimpse of how a great story gets put together.

Eugene Gilfedder plays William Shakespeare, who is plotting to kill the queen (and stealing episodes from her life for use in his own plays) and also the fantastic character of Grosslady, which he pwns. PWNS. He is absolutely hysterical in his women’s garb, with his high-heeled gait and that’s before he even utters a word of witty Tranny Speak/Drag Slang, which will have you either in tears of laughter or wide-eyed and quietly, concernedly murmuring to the person next to you, “Whaaaaat the…? What did he say?”

Jason Klarwein plays Elizabeth’s Chief of Police, Egerton, who really does plot to kill Elizabeth, as she desperately, obsessively waits for her lover, the Earl of Essex to arrive. The Virgin Queen? We don’t think so (Dash Kruck’s bare bum soon puts that theory to rest!). Egerton’s news bulletins especially, are brilliant. So slickly delivered on opening night were they that each time Klarwein asked the company whether or not they wanted to hear the report all over again, I wanted to shout in opposition to them, “YES!” His multiple costume changes are baffling though and you just might get a joke that I missed.

The production benefits enormously, as productions do in this town, by having Musical Director, John Rodgers involved. His animated accompaniment is as if we’re sitting in a silent movie theatre, with the movie brought to life before us. Dash Kruck (Thomas, the often ignored and abused Fool) can sing so he does. Although it makes little sense to me to have the songs in the show at all (in the original Malthouse Theatre production they were perhaps better contextualised, rewritten as Elizabethan madrigals), Kruck delivers them well – a little too well for the character – and gives us a reminder of what to expect next from him (no, not necessarily more nudity), as he heads to Sydney soon for a highly anticipated production of the hit Broadway musical, Next to Normal, at the Capital Theatre. I would also like to have heard Kruck’s rendition, from beyond the grave, of The Neverending Story theme song.

But that’s just me.

After only six days of rehearsing with the company in the role of Martha, Sarah Kennedy does her best and it is just enough. She can’t possibly compete with Klarwein and Gilfedder, who have clearly been given a license to party like it’s 1999. At times their relentless antics, like a Battle Round on The Voice, draw attention away from the fragility of the woman whose story it is. Martha brings the focus back to her poor, paranoid mistress each and every time with perfect grace and good humour.

Carol Burns is an absolute treasure and as the aging queen, suffering from paranoia and sleeplessness in the last days of her life, and with the boys club of Gilfedder, Klarwein and Kruck on stage, she holds her own, bounding around the room with her skirts held high and riding atop a giant wooden rocking horse, which Klarwein later sees from a slightly, err, lower perspective (it’s one of the funniest moments in the play). Hers is a highly physical role but Burns impresses most in her final moments, as the frail, brain-addled, heartbroken woman who was Queen. Romaniuk’s imposing quilted white walls and David Walters’ stark white lighting give us the sense that this is indeed – finally – the peaceful end to a mad life. With all the action having happened in Elizabeth’s head, we easily feel empathy for her; a woman who would really probably have preferred, more often than not, to be just a woman, without the royal obligations. This is the magic of Fo’s form, finally revealing once and for all, the humanity of his subject, regardless of class, creed or colour. I found Burns’ performance incredibly moving and I was disappointed that Fo felt the need to bring back his Will Shakespeare character, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Prince in Romeo and Juliet, to close the show. Depicting an ailing, confused queen, her behaviour and emotions moving erratically between polar ends of the spectrum for the duration of the play, Burns delivers what might be the performance of her lifetime and I feel like she should have the final light.

Irrespective of its bad language (remember, this show came with a warning!), and its lewdness, this show is not so shocking or offensive that you can’t take your mum or your sister to see it. I took mine (my sister, that is; my mum is gallivanting around Europe). In fact, I think you could safely take your grandmother too!

Elizabeth, almost by chance a woman is zany, bawdy comedy at its most playful and you’ll either love it or hate it but you must see it to know which it is! Enjoy!


the laramie project

The Laramie Project

Centenary Theatre Group

Nash Theatre

10th  – 31st March 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean

The irony of this production of The Laramie Project being held in a church hall made me chuckle quietly to myself. An irony you will understand if you see the play. It was a short-lived stint of laughter though. Knowing The Laramie Project from my days of my nose in a book I was well aware that despite there being funny characters this is not a comedy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you left the Nash Theatre feeling heavy hearted too.

The Laramie Project is a very unique piece of non-fiction made for stage. Moises Kaufman and his members of the Tectonic Theatre Project collaborated in the November of 1998 to bring us what is called verbatim theatre. Along the rural buck fenced landscapes of Wyoming nine members gathered in Laramie four weeks after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. A young 21 year old university student who was gay and punished for it gravely. More disturbingly two boys had committed the crime, the same age as Matthew. Just a couple of kids like him. The play, under Moises Kaufman’s terms, is never made up of traditional scenes. Only what Kaufman calls moments, snippets of interviews with real people. Their words, the true words, being reverberated on a stage whether it be far off in New York or here in Brisbane.

The immensity of dedication to a play like this isn’t trivial. Each of the eight cast members at the Nash Theatre had at least eight roles each, some many more. There are no stagehands in this production either. Each actor must change scenery, costume and attitude unseen in the shadows. Presenting himself or herself to the spotlight one by one as a changed person. The costumes as well as setting are of a minimalist nature. This enables the actors to depend solely on their craft to portray a different person each time. With the change of a hat or maybe a table moved slightly forward it is up to the cast to convince us of who they are. In their voice, their movement and their stage presence the audience puts all of its trust in them.

This production is political. It can be solemn. At times the people will make you laugh but then you’ll understand the vastness of truth, sadness and love held by these people for the town. Whether they are Matthew Shepard’s friends or Doc the kooky, local limo driver all of them embody a strange loss for Laramie. That’s why when seeing this production the cast hold your focus intensely. So dramatically that a distraction doesn’t just catch your eye. It breaks the gravity of your attention all together. The choice to use multimedia as a means to communicate a scene or emotion was not the right choice for this play. Understandably, the black screen depicting the title of each “moment” was effective. It gave a sense of time and place. However, the pictures of a bible while talking to a priest or a snowy street in Laramie while talking of the weather were unnecessary. Watching the stage I could tell these eight talented people could easily portray the setting and the emotion needed through their performance alone. The screen constantly changing to pictures found on the Internet kept dragging my attention away from them.

Each of the cast embraced the idea of taking on a menagerie of characters embodied in one person. But three men stood out for me. They made me momentarily forget they were still the same person, then like flicking a switch they’d change and I’d be excited to see who they had become next.

Aaron Bernard first caught my attention with the slow lilting observations of Doc the limousine driver. When he looked out to the crowd and said “The last thing on earth he saw was the sparkling lights.” sadness made me shift uncomfortably in my seat. Then the jumping, twitching flurry of words from Matt Galloway the bartender made me laugh and nod along with the rhythmic storytelling Aaron portrayed.

Daren King likewise blended in and out of a range of characters with ease. There’s a certainty in his movement and voice. His confidence to intentionally look lost is what made characters like the Unitarian minister, the doctor and even one of the perpetrators seem so real.

Tom Yaxley was possibly the luckiest to experience some of the most pivotal characters in this production. I couldn’t help but secretly giggle at his portrayal of the director and chief writer, Moises Kaufman. The accent and poise was like something taken out of an interview and that’s exactly what is intended of the actor. But my favourite of all the roles Yaxley takes on is Father Roger Schmit. It’s odd to think these characters are all people taken from factual interviews and yet a real person still feels like a plot device. His powerful words, real quotes from the catholic minister, hit home and Tom Yaxley delivered them rightly so.

Dan Lane took the helm as the director of this production. His involvement with the Nash Theatre over the last two years equates to his first time directing for this particular group. His mindset is clear when you watch the actors on stage. Above all it is an actor driven performance and his dedication to that goal is apparent in the play. In the final closing of the production that last image on the stage is an excellent summary. Not only of the play but also of Dan Lane’s capacity for the stage.

This production will not lie to you. It will never promise you something it can’t deliver. Everything said and done is a refraction of the truth that occurred fourteen years ago. If you like to search for the truth or just enjoy theatre that aims to express meaningfulness The Laramie Project at the Nash Theatre is a show you need to see.


discover love

Discover Love

Belarus Free Theatre (BLR)

Powerhouse Visy Theatre

I adore the Visy theatre. It’s that “just right” Mama Bear sized space for very special stories. What a perfectly intimate space it is for Discover Love: a heart-wrenching, horrifying, bittersweet, beautiful story, based on actual events, from the world’s most political theatre company. If you wanted to see this show in Belarus, where it’s a crime to speak out against just about everything, you would have to know somebody who knew where it was being staged. Audiences are directed to secret performance spaces using SMS and word-of-mouth. Belarus theatre workers (and their audiences) have gone underground…it’s rave theatre and I’m grateful it’s a novelty in this country – “The Lucky Country” – and not a necessity.

The Lucky Country indeed. In cruel contrast, enforced disappearances, abductions, kidnappings and torture are rife in Belarus. In fact, politically motivated people have been disappearing, all over the world, since Nazi Germany’s Nacht und Nebel Decree of 1941. They speak out (or murmur something quietly at a party or at their workplace) and suddenly they simply disappear. Relatives of those who have disappeared have said that the pain of losing their loved one is the most acute a person can experience. There is no knowing whether or not the person is alive or dead. There is only the knowledge that they are being mistreated for their beliefs.

Directed by Mikalai Khalezin, Discover Love is the true story of Irina Krasovskaya and her husband, Anatoly, told from the point of view of Ira. She reveals how, in the midst of a near-perfect marriage and a beautiful life, Toly was abducted and murdered for his assistance to the democratic body of Belarus. It’s a love story turned political story turned human story. And it pangs, though not at first. At first, Ira shares tenderly and generously, the words bubbling over one another in her impatience to paint each picture, stories told by her grandmother and remembers, fondly, evenings spent around the radio, the spritely, contented Jewish neighbours who dance and cook and smile, and (not so fondly) her diffident father, who stomps into the tiny apartment in his heavy military boots and goes again, leaving a paper bag of candy – not the chocolates Ira preferred – on the kitchen table (“A father should know what his daughter likes!”).

Pavel Gorodnitski, who steps into a number of secondary roles, also has the heavy duty of playing a traditional clay pipe (like an ocarina), to open and close the show, establishing that, although based on real events, the story to which we are privy is a play; a piece of theatre.

The actors offer energetic, heart-filled performances, all joy and strength, demonstrating a deep connection to their story and to each other; we see it during a delightful tango, choreographed by Olga Skvortsova. We breathe in with Ira, the fantastic fragrance of fresh oranges (a rare treat in so many cold countries), spilling from their plywood box, setting up some wholly sensory theatre. I always hope to experience more of this (and we do, during Neil Armfield’s production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll). It’s whole theatre, like the notion of the whole child in education, catering for every sense, every aspect of the experience. This simple joy, however, is masterfully transformed into fear and horror, as the assassin crushes the oranges underfoot on the day of Toly’s abduction, turning a symbol of goodness and beauty into a senseless, merciless act.

The space starts out clean and simple, the changing of bed linen used to bookend each chapter of the story; like the fairy bell to turn the page in your favourite Disney book, pretty handmade quilts projected onto a screen, above which are surtitles. A note on surtitles/subtitles: It often feels like we’re missing something, flicking between words and actors; missing something of the actors when having to read the surtitles or missing the precise meaning of the words whilst watching the actors. Like sitting back in our seats and tuning into the language of Shakespeare, it’s possible to follow both. It takes practice, which indicates that we should all see more foreign theatre, films and Shakespeare. (There is no shortage of great Shakespeare in Brisbane this year)! I love language – I feel sure I spoke plenty of languages in a previous life – and it was wonderful to hear the lilt and sharp edges of the Russian along with some beautiful Belarusian.

Despite Ira’s laments, Discover Love is such a light, lovely story for so long. There’s a feminine quality to the telling of it, so much innocence and joy, which is not entirely lost but becomes, unsurprisingly, a great deal darker as political events impact more directly upon the family. Harsh, interrogative lighting replaces the softer, gentler glow of happier times.

The concluding prayer, accompanied by projected images of protestors holding photographs of those who had disappeared, got me. And it got the majority of the audience, visibly, audibly; we were moved beyond words – I literally could not speak to anybody after the show about what we’d just been through together  – and a sense of solidarity was established, in a moment of sympathy and compassion for these people, whose lives are unimaginable horror. Then the audience left the sacred space of the Visy and we made our way upstairs to the bar… and what did we do with those feelings when we left? What feeling remains, long after the show is over? What now?

This is life-affecting theatre. Whether or not it’s life changing is up to the individual.