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The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Amy Manson and Buchan Lennon in The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Lyceum, Edinburgh. Photo: Alan McCredie Photography Amy Manson and Buchan Lennon in The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Lyceum, Edinburgh. Photo: Alan McCredie Photography
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Big and emotionally involving, Mark Thomson’s Caucasian Chalk Circle for the Royal Lyceum is a perfect riposte to the recent decision to reduce the theatre’s grant. The 13-strong ensemble mix with the audience before the show, greeting them like old friends, with all of Karen Tennent’s stripped back set visible on stage.

This is the closest the Lyceum has come to staging a musical for several years, with the ensemble all bringing some kind of instrument to the stage. Alistair Beaton’s sharp rhythmic translation finds a contemporary relevance too, but not intrusively so. Sarah Swire is all indie-rock goddess as the Singer, leading the way through Claire McKenzie’s score that stretches its references from Germany to America and back to Scotland, and only lacks a big powerful tune.

Amy Manson is a sincere, honest and heroic Grusha, coy in her love for the Soldier but firm in her decision to mother Michael, the infant son of the despotic Governor. Her adventures sweep the first half along as the puppet Michael (Adam Bennett) grows into a toddler.

A succession of coherent, entertaining performances ensure ebullience and fervour, with cross dressing reinforcing Brecht’s anti-realism. Jon Trenchard as the sneering Governor’s wife, cocky and aggressive Deborah Arnott as the Sergeant hunting Michael down, and pompous Shirley Darroch as Kazbeki all convince.

The pace and rhythm never flag in the second half, either, as Christopher Fairbank’s pugnacious, leering, articulate Azdak becomes judge and executes his anti-establishment decisions.

If things are best nurtured by those who care, then Thomson and his team have made a superlative argument for their theatre.

Dates: February 18-March 14, PN February 21

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Strong, musically coherent and vibrant take on Brecht that bristles with righteous energy