Caucasian Chalk Circle

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The production of the Frank McGuinness version of Caucasian Chalk Circle at the National Theatre on the 20th March 2007 by Filter Theatre was, in my opinion, a very successful and effective piece of theatre. The characters of Azdak and The Fat Prince were particularly entertaining and well-acted characters, and the use of special effects in the piece was also most interesting. Costume was also a significant contributory factor. The actor playing Azdak characterised a lazy, sloth-like person very well, and presented a very plausible character to the audience.

His contribution to the overall success of the piece was key, as his comic timing and showmanship really drew the audience in. He was the most entertaining character within the entire piece by far, and he brought the standard of the piece up considerably. His colloquial and common speech was very befitting to his character, and was carried off very well. He was consistent in his accent, without faltering or losing it at any point. That he was able to interact with the audience without going over-the-top made a big comic impact, which all the audience seemed to respond well to.

Minor asides, winking to the audience, or merely a look cast in the audience’s direction, were subtle but really heightened the comic impact of the piece. One example of where minor audience recognition added to the comic impact was when the character of Azdak was about to spit cheese on the Grand Duke, who was dressed as a tramp, with a false beard. He first began to slowly chew the cheese; this build up created a humour in anticipation, and also drew out the comic moment. As he was chewing, he looked to the audience for a split second, with a grin and a raising of the eyebrows.

This generated laughter from the audience, a clear evidence that the actor was successful. When he actually spat the cheese, the audience reaction was one of much laughter and some revulsion. The way in which he did this, by drawing his body back and propelling it slightly forward as he shouted to spray the cheese made the event especially amusing. These little touches were present throughout the piece, and really gave Azdak’s character a personality and really established a rapport with the audience, despite the clearly corrupt nature of the character.

The Fat Prince was a character who needed to be despised by the audience for the role to properly suit the play. He was a very clearly upper-class, commanding, authoritative character. In order to characterise the feeling of superiority that the character was expected to express toward other characters, the actor had to do a number of things. One was to stride with confidence, acting self-important. The actor did this by taking large, slow, heavy strides around the stage, and making only small and dismissive hand gestures.

By doing this with his gestures, and allowing his pitch to trail off in speech, he was demeaning to the other characters. He spoke loudly, clearly, and with a stereotypically ‘posh’ British accent. He conveyed an almost childlike glee in issuing orders most would consider villainous, and this made the audience even less sympathetic toward him, which was the desired effect. The role of costume in the piece added humour, in particular regarding the aforementioned characters, Azdak and the Fat Prince.

Azdak was dressed in nothing but underwear and his a lot of the time, and when he became judge, he wore the judge’s robe over this. This not only added to the effect of the character as a common man, and the effect of the judge’s robe over the vest and underwear created a stark contrast. This contrast not only highlighted the unusual nature of Azdak being a judge in his position, but also created a comic effect. This alone made the piece a little more enjoyable to watch, and the actor playing Azdak was able to get laughter from the audience with mere flourishes of the robe to take it on and off, or by dropping it.

The Fat Prince’s costume was effective, and he wore a purple jacket over white clothes, with a padded stomach area to make the actor appear fat. This portrayed wealth and excess, as there were many gold-coloured trimmings and buttons on the costume. The padded stomach area was clear, rather than subtle, which kept with Brechtian form; that it was obvious padded jacket fits in with Brechtian performance style; Brecht said ‘let the process of showing be shown’, and this is an example of such a thing. A good example of where special effects really added to the performance was where Grusha had to give the peasant, Jussup, a bath.

The actor of Jussup was in a bath onstage, however there was no water in the bath. Instead, each time Jussup moved, the actor who played the Fat Prince, who was crouched downstage-right, would pour water form a jug into a bucket. This was all onstage, and done up to a microphone so that the audience could hear it. This was of course an example of Brechtian Theatre, so was true to form. This was an interesting and skilfully implemented effect, which enhanced the production both in keeping to form and also adding interest for the audience.

The sound of the water was also dramatic, and highlighted the tense atmosphere between Grusha and Jussup. Overall, therefore, the production was a great success, the most notable contributors being the actors of Azdak and the Fat Prince, the role of costume, and the very Brechtian special effects implemented. The examples outlined above are the moments which really displayed these strengths well, but are by no means the only effective moments in the play. The play as a whole was entertaining, intriguing and effective, keeping true to Brechtian form.

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