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THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE (article first published : 2007-08-31)

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, one of Bertold Brecht's best-known plays, is a play with music, composed by Tiki Nxumalo and Themi Venturas, and is derived from an ancient story.

It is presented by the Theatre in Education students of the Department of Drama of the Durban University of Technology (DUT), in association with TheatreBiz. The directors, Themi Venturas and Peter Court, have done wonders with the large cast of about 38 students in a tight, disciplined production bringing out the best in them, especially in their ensemble singing where one heard every word clearly, and their dance movements were spot on. This marks the first time that students are working in a professional theatre, according to Themi Venturas.

The story is told of Governor Tamayati (Ntokozo Nxumalo) and his wife (Sine Vezi) who are very proud of their baby, Michael. The governor is beheaded in an uprising and the young peasant Grusha, a fine performance by Thanda Myeza, saves the baby who is abandoned by the mother. Grusha is being courted by Simon, a credible, nicely rounded performance by Lungani Ngcobo. Grusha has to escape capture by running away with the baby and raises him amidst great hardship after obtaining refuge with her brother (Wonderboy Kakole) and his wife Agnes (Neliswa Ngcobo).

The story unfolds against a background of war and strife, oppression, the corruption of people in power, greed - the "haves" and the "have-nots", poverty, homelessness, political intrigue and manipulation, mob violence and protest. However there is also great love and caring. The play conveys these messages clearly without pontificating or preaching but in a very entertaining way, especially in the context of our own society. Deserving special mention are standout performances by Lungelo Gwala as Azdak, the Judge, and Sandiso Mfeka, superb as Blockhead.

As is typical of Bertold Brecht's style, minimum set and props are used. The several levels of the stage work very well and the use of billboards to set the various scenes create a very humorous touch. The confrontation between Grusha and her boyfriend Simon when he finds out she is married, on opposite sides of a river, beautifully portrayed by blue material, given opposite perspectives by the two protagonists and the river moving around the stage, is a impressively visual scene. The costumes designed by Peter Court complement the production beautifully, as does Tiki Nxumalo on acoustic guitar and African drum.

The production opens with a group of the cast, as students, lounging about centre stage discussing Brecht before the Narrator (Samantha Moore) enters to hassle them to get into costume and leave the stage. I found this opening scene noisy and much of the dialogue not very clear and not projected well. I feared the worst but the cast settled down immediately and the dialogue was fine for the duration of the play, some of the best I have heard from DUT students.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a school setwork and this production will be an asset to all learners as a study aid. The play runs at the Catalina Theatre, Wilson’s Wharf until September 9 with shows at 20h00 (Sundays at 18h00) with no performances on Mondays. Bookings on 031 305 6889 or through Strictly Tickets at strictlytickets.com – Maurice Kort




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