Another Chalk Circle
written and directed by Jeff Moule
by Joyce Handbury
Belper Players were performing a double bill for Belper Arts Festival with two new plays. The first one was ‘Another Chalk Circle’ written and directed by Jeff Moule.The Caucasian Chalk Circle was written in 1944 by Bertolt Brecht portraying a world of upheaval and violence, cruelty and exploitation but surprisingly showing that goodness and justice could also be found. It is basically a parable about a peasant girl who rescues a baby and becomes a better mother than its wealthy natural parents. Jeff Moule has written his version of the story bringing it right up to date with references to recent political events, the migrant crisis and the polarised positions taken by people concerning these issues. Twelve of the fourteen members of the cast were sat in a semi-circle on the extremely small performing area and as the play proceeded all fourteen had the colossal task of playing the thirty-one named roles. This was incredibly achieved with the minimum of fuss, with costumes and props appearing out of nowhere and everyone moving like well-oiled cogs and when not ‘in use’ they remained perfectly still, not twitching it seemed, so much as an eyelid. The evil dicatator, Governor Georgi Abaschvili, was stridently and authoritatively played by Paul Davies and Sheila Kay Sly was excellent as his self-centred, self-important and arrogant wife, Natella and we are privy to an effective and somewhat amusing birth of their child. After a violent coup when her husband is killed, Natella forgets the baby (because she is so busily seeking out and packing her designer outfits) as she attempts to flee. Grusha’s soldier boyfriend Simon, ably played by Arun Hayes, persuades her to escape and as she does so, she comes across the abandoned child and decides to takes it with her. Morgan Richter was superb as Grusha, her performance is so movingly and touchingly believable, especially in her relationship with the baby. At the instigation of the Fat Prince, well played by Al Grant, the Captain of the Guard, forcibly and intimidatingly characterised by Nick Mothershaw along with good support from soldiers Rob Chambers and Ben Turner, set off in pursuit of Grusha and the baby. Many dramatic scenes follow for Grusha, including a well conceived crossing of a fragile rope bridge, the encounter with her brother and his uptight wife, her forced marriage to an elderly infirm man who miraculously recovers as soon as the war is over and proceeds to demand his conjugal rights. Grusha and the child are finally captured and it is in court, where Natella is demanding the return of her son, that the child ends up in the ‘chalk circle’ and the Judge decrees that Grusha should in fact have custody of the child and we see that good does and can triumph over evil. Ann Taylor and Terry Stevenson were the two members missing from the chairs on the stage and were actually sitting in the audience from where they, at times, commented on the proceedings, and had other roles in the play. Ann Taylor excelled as the ‘Woman with sewing’ and Terry Stevenson, playing five different roles, was up and down like a yo-yo, and was truly first-rate. It was he, at the end of the performance when the whole of the cast were singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and brandishing placards, who challenged us, the audience, to make a decision on migrant refugees fleeing political instability and conflict to seek asylum in the UK and to walk through an ‘Aye’ or ‘Nay’ lobby as we left the auditorium. It was a remarkable ensemble piece with every cast member giving tremendous support to those with a more major role. Susan Stevenson provided delightful musical accompaniments, back projections helped set certain scenes and sympathetic lighting, appropriate costumes and props completed this masterful piece of theatre. Congratulations must go to everyone involved but especially to Jeff Moule for his outstanding version of the original and for his astute and innovative direction.
by Amanda Penman
Another Chalk Circle, was written and directed by a drama stalwart in Belper, Jeff Moule.
He has taken the classic by Brecht – The Caucasian Chalk Circle – and brought it bang up-to-date. The storyline was changed little so we had the parable about a peasant girl who rescues a baby and becomes a better mother than its wealthy natural parents but is eventually forced to fight with the natural mother for the right to keep the child.
The judge draws a chalk circle and places the child in the middle telling the women to pull the child from either side. In a Solomon-like judgement the Judge gives the child to the peasant girl as she cannot face harming the child by pulling him apart and lets her rival win.
Jeff, has changed the play by making very obvious references to recent political events (pick your own war zone, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan) and giving it an unexpected ending which makes it relevant to the migrant crisis.
The playwright says his aim was to quite literally challenge the audience to have an opinion on whether or not we should accept migrants into the UK at the end of the production. It was a brave move to tackle such a difficult subject.
The fast-paced play has a large cast squeezed on to a small stage and as director Jeff did well to share out the roles and keep the necessary props simple yet effective.
As always the experienced actors from the Belper Players held it together and there were extremely good performances from Sheila Kay Sly as Natell Abaschivili, the wealthy mother; Paul Davies as the evil dictator Governor Georgi Abaschvili and Nick Mothershaw as the Captain of the Guard.
The heroine of the play Grusha the peasant girl was played with confidence by Morgan Richter, a relative newcomer to the Belper team.
The rest of the cast were Al Grant, Alyson Koe, Roger Whiting, Rob Chambers, Jeremy Crane, Helen Barley, Ben Turner, Ann Taylor, Terry Stevenson and Arun Hayes.
Musical accompaniment was by Susan Stevenson, the set was designed by Barry Brown, costumes and props were by Ann Taylor, lighting and sound Jamie Vella and Andy Boles, front of house Sarah McMullen and publicity Alyson Koe.