Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru (Wales’ Welsh-language national theatre company) tackles a seminal piece of European drama in this new translation of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
It’s a timely decision with Brecht’s text foreshadowing the scenes of displacement, civil unrest and political corruption all too familiar from today’s newsfeeds. Its key question, of whether the traditional privileged elite should be awarded the greatest responsibility, has rarely seemed so apposite.
Rebecca Hayes plays Grusha, maid to the abhorrent first lady Natella (played with exquisite relish – and in flawless Welsh – by Turkish actor Pinar Ogun). After the government is violently deposed, Grusha is reluctantly tasked with adopting her employer’s infant boy. Hayes affects the heroine with a stoic vulnerability, danger always lurking as she strives to protect the baby from outside forces – the fascistic military, uncharitable peasants, a corrupt law.
Mererid Hopwood’s elegant translation and Sarah Bickerton’s production place the action in a peculiar netherworld somewhere between the Caucasus and the Cambrian Mountains. But while the Brechtian structures are here, the execution is sometimes overplayed. Some of the scores of characters fall into dated clichés, stereotypes even repeated across roles, and the absurdist nature of the play occasionally falls between cracks into pantomime territory.
The piece is elevated by the constant, almost ethereal presence of electropop artist Gwenno. She is the Singer-Narrator, performing her own dazzling compositions with a knowing insouciance and in a style that echoes Brecht’s roots in Weimar Berlin. Her harmonious interplay with Rebecca Hayes is especially affecting.