Updating a debate between anti-Nazi Soviet partisans to one among anti-Soviet Georgian separatists produces awkwardness and inconsistency in Brecht's prologue, the more so as the body of the play needs no such spin-doctoring. The twin stories (of a kitchen maid who adopts the Governor's abandoned son during a coup, and of the drunken, comically unpredictable judge who settles the question of the boy's parenthood by the Solomonic test of the chalk circle) still possess appreciable power if handled properly, and Nick Stimson – though pressed for time with the Young Vic's youth company – gets his priorities right.
Juliet Aghion's Grusha only occasionally falls prey to expressions of saintly suffering, and is largely a determined, un-actorly protagonist: as Azdak, Mark Fleischmann is cleverer than usual portrayals, showing both more cunning and more concern. The proceedings are controlled by Siinon Meacock's accomplished, assured Singer, who not only narrates but seems to conspire with the audience to manipulate events. Like all Chalk Circles it's 40 minutes longer than expected even with cuts ("Can't you make it shorter?" – "No"), but it hardly feels too long at all.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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