Tracey Rees-Cooke reviews Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru‘s version of Brecht’s classics The Caucasian Chalk Circle at Pontio in Bangor.
Double Take. Cymryd dwbl.
Was that Brecht I saw just before the performance or a trick of my mind’s eye… or was this such a strong Brechtonian performance that I was already caught up in the epic? In short – this welsh language production Y Cylch Sialc is remarkable and credit must be lavished on director Sarah Bickerton and translator Mererid Hopwood for this new vision of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
It has a wicked, bawdy, dark humour that commands the attention even of those who, like me, might not be mother-tongue Welsh. This exuberant, lively and amusing production is an ensemble of the very highest standard. The cast is an impressive collective with Rebecca Heyes shining through as a passionate, convincing Grusha who takes on board a heavy load; to be ‘mother’ to Michel destroying her own safety and private life by stealing him like a thief from the executed Governor amongst the chaos after the Palace revolution in a kind of re-imagined, war-torn Soviet Caucasus valley populated with a crazy crew not a million miles away from the villagers of LLareggub.
Grusha is a true heroine, even if she isn’t quite aware of it. She puts herself in danger to begin the plight across the Northern Mountains against some serious odds; daring escapes from the Ironshirts, an evil rapist General, a greedy milk seller, foolish pastel-hued aristocratic ladies and a grim old peasant woman who betrays her. All of her struggles are watched over by Gwenno, who composed 26 new songs for this interpretation and is a kind of musical overseer who recognises the humane, if much later maternal, response in the taking on of Michel and keeping him safe.
Dressed as a kind of Shirley Bassey meets Diana Ross who then explodes into a multitude of magnificent yellow feathers with a rather splendid sequin bolero for less extravagant scenes, Gwenno’s obvious star presence alleviates the complex burdens of the actors whilst adding to the timbre of the various voices; delightful small town pomp, nonsense and energetic eccentricity.
Yes, it is a marvellously mad turn from Gwenno Saunders, a Welsh musician of considerable talent and a vivid gusto just right for the inhabitants of this crazy Brueghelian cast which somehow manages to convey all of the social spectrums of society that remain in existence today.
Pinar Ogun slinks about in an emerald green dress exuding selfishness as the child’s birth mother. Her priorities are status, wealth and power. The complete opposite to the microcosm of revolution represented by the actions of our heroine, Grusha. Renegade judge Azdaz played by Noel James is also outstanding as he charges about the stage covered in blood, sweat and a complete disregard for convention – but so is all the cast in this high-quality production.
Brecht believed that actions are ultimately defined by the social, the human qualities, and the human part of being is brilliantly illustrated in this thoroughly enjoyable, engaging and heroic production.
The play concludes at Pontio, Bangor this Saturday and moves on to Aberystwyth Arts Centre from 21st October. Sibrwd, a language access app that makes Welsh-language theatre accessible to all is available at each performance.
For more information on future productions by the Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, click here.
Tracey Rees-Cooke has written several contributions for Wales Arts Review.
Y Cylch Sialc