Theatre

Chalk Circle / Stones and Ashes Edinburgh
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The Independent Culture
Strange though it may seem, Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle was originally intended for Broadway. Here, the director Gerard Murphy honours Brecht's (thwarted) aims by setting his production at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum on what looks like a 1940s Broadway rehearsal stage.

The house lights remain up as cast-members move from chatting among themselves into the roles of two Russian communities hotly disputing how to regenerate their valley in the wake of Nazi occupation. In order to transcend the impasse their discussions have reached, the people enthusiastically stage Brecht's adaptation of The Chalk Circle. Only in the very final scenes does Brecht return to the valley.

Despite the cool guidance of narrator Arkadi (Peter Kelly), the chaotic overthrow of the Governor of the fictional land of Grusinia lacks urgency and clarity, fogging the significance of servant girl Grusche's rescue of the Governor's abandoned baby son. Grusche is a classical Brechtian heroine - sharp-tongued, romantic, down-to-earth, noble - and Louise Gold seems at first to be as uneasy about how to play her as Grusche is to play herself. But Gold displays growing authority as Grusche faces up to her mixed fortunes in the mountains.

There's a great deal more theatrical "business" in the second half of the play, which gives a chance for the comic talents of Jimmy Chisholm and Sean Baker to shine, although some of the farcical / satirical scenes fall short in pace and punch.

Given Brecht's economy of means and simplicity of expression, it is easy for a cast to miss the underlying complexities of meaning and feeling. It's a measure of the success of Murphy's production, and of the Lyceum's repertory system - Chalk Circle is the second of a trio of plays with the same cast - that the cleanly rounded endings of this play hark back not to slick Broadway sentimentality but to the resonant resolution of a Shakespearian comedy.

There's theatrical story-telling of a different kind at the Traverse, in Ian Brown's production of the Quebecois Daniel Danis's Stones and Ashes. A tragic tale with a seven-year span is dealt out over two hours by four characters, almost exclusively in monologue.

Danis's dark, backwards scenario is of a grief-stricken father and daughter who flee Montreal (where their wife / mother has been brutally murdered in her lingerie store) to settle in an isolated rural town. The father, Clermont (Tam Dean Burn), gradually becomes involved with Shirley (Anne Marie Timoney), a tough free spirit whose ties with a nihilistic local gang, personified by Coco (John Kazek), are so knotted as to draw them all to a tragic fate.

The individual parts of Brown's production (including his direction) are impeccable. Tom McGrath's vibrant Scots translation is as much at home with the colourful self-mythification of Dionysiac Coco as with the raw inner world of Burn's sisyphean Clermont. Burn and Timoney create an awesome tension in performances of real intensity.

However, Stones and Ashes's form lets it down badly. Its structure of extended monologues cannot in the end sustain the weight of the story, which, if more straightforwardly enacted rather than reported, would make more compelling drama.

n 'Chalk Circle' is at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, to 4 Nov (0131-229 9697). 'Stones and Ashes', at the Traverse, Edinburgh, to 12 Nov (0131-228 1404)

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