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The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht in a version by Frank McGuinness Produced by National Theatre Education Directed by Sean Holmes with Filter Theatre Workpack Tour details Introduction Story Filter Production history Interview with Frank McGuinness Language Geography Shakespeare Sources Design Themes Timeframes Character Epic Theatre Brecht timeline Quotes Follow-up work Reading Workshop plans

This production is supported by the Dorset Foundation

The Caucasian Chalk Circle
poster photo © Getty Images, designed by Charlotte Wilkinson
Director Sean Holmes NT Education National Theatre South Bank London SE1 9PX T 020 7452 3388 F 020 7452 3380 E educationenquiries@ nationaltheatre.org.uk Worksheet written by Elizabeth Freestone, Associate Director on The Caucasian Chalk Circle Editor Emma Gosden Design Patrick Eley Lisa Johnson

Further production details: nationaltheatre.org.uk

This workpack is published by and copyright The Royal National Theatre Board Reg. No. 1247285 Registered Charity No. 224223 Views expressed in this workpack are not necessarily those of the National Theatre

The Caucasian Chalk Circle
The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht in a version by Frank McGuinness Directed by Sean Holmes in collaboration with Filter Theatre Company A servant girl sacrifices everything to protect a child abandoned in the heat of civil war. Order restored, she is made to confront the boy’s biological mother in a legal contest over who deserves to keep him. The judge calls on an ancient tradition – the chalk circle – to resolve the dispute. Who wins? A morality masterpiece, The Caucasian Chalk Circle powerfully demonstrates Brecht’s pioneering theatrical techniques. This version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle was first performed at the National Theatre in 1997. It was staged in the round in the Olivier and was a collaboration with Complicite, a company celebrated for their physical approach to storytelling. Ten years on, the same version appears in a different auditorium at the National, in collaboration with another pioneering theatre company, whose innovative, playful style matches the anarchy and imagination of the writing. Filter Theatre are renowned for their unique fusion of music, sound and video imagery. “On the whole, theatre has not been brought up to modern technological standards” said Brecht. This bold collaboration aims to do just that. Singer LEO CHADBURN Adjutant OLIVER DIMSDALE Governor JOHN LLOYD FILLINGHAM Governor’s Wife THUSITHA JAYASUNDERA Simon FERDY ROBERTS Nanny GEMMA SAUNDERS The Fat Prince MO SESAY Azdak NICOLAS TENNANT Grusha CATH WHITEFIELD Director SEAN HOLMES Designer ANTHONY LAMBLE Lighting Designer PAULE CONSTABLE Video Designer LORNA HEAVEY Music/Sound Designers CHRIS BRANCH, TOM HAINES, LEO CHADBURN Music Consultant TIM PHILLIPS Associate Director ELIZABETH FREESTONE Producer DAWN INGLESON THE NT EDUCATION MOBILE TOUR 2007 9-13 Jan CANTERBURY Gulbenkian Theatre 16-20 Jan BRIGHTON Corn Exchange 23-27 Jan NORWICH Playhouse 30 Jan-3 Feb DUNDEE Rep Theatre 6-10 Feb LIVERPOOL Everyman 13-14 Feb ABERYSTWYTH Arts Centre 16-17 Feb BRECON Theatr Brycheiniog 20-24 Feb WARWICK Arts Centre 27 Feb-3 Mar BRISTOL Old Vic 7 Mar-14 Apr LONDON National Theatre

The purpose of this pack is to explore the working methodology employed by Sean Holmes, the director, in the rehearsal room and give an insight into the making of this production. The workpack will look practically at Filter’s inventive approach to making theatre as well as examining Brecht’s writing and his position in contemporary theatre.

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Synopsis
The Caucasian Chalk Circle is divided into a prologue and five acts. PROLOGUE Georgia, the end of the Second World War. Amidst the ruins of a badly shelled Caucasian village two opposing sides meet to discuss the future of a valley. One group, the Rosa Luxemburg kolchos, are arable farmers who remained in the valley during the war and successfully defended the village from the Nazis. The other group, the Galinsk kolchos, are goat-herders and were moved on during the fighting to graze their animals elsewhere. Now they have returned and the two sides must decide who is to get the land. An agronomist reveals irrigation plans which will mean a substantial increase in crop production. Reluctantly the Galinsk kolchos agree. A famous Singer is called upon to tell a story to seal the contract. THE MIGHTY CHILD Georgia, the long ago. The country, led by the Grand Duke, is fighting a disastrous foreign war with Persia. In the small town of Nukha all seems calm. A Governor, Georgi Abashvili, and his wife, Natella, leave their palace to go to church on Easter Sunday. Their only son and heir, Michael, is shown to the crowds for the first time. But a military coup led by the princes, who are unhappy at the way the war is being conducted, is underway. They want to oust the Grand Duke and his governors and the Fat Prince oversees the capture and beheading of Governor Georgi. Riots break out in the town and the palace is thrown into chaos. As servants try and pack for the Governor’s Wife to escape, Simon, a palace guard, and Grusha, a servant, get engaged. The Governor’s Wife, hurrying as the fighting gets worse, flees, leaving her child Michael behind. The Fat Prince orders his troops, the Ironshirts, to search for the child, offering 1000 piastres as a reward. After a night of soul-searching, Grusha steals away with Michael. THE FLIGHT TO THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS Grusha’s brother, Lavrenti, lives in the Northern Mountains and she decides to go to him for safety until the war is over. She buys milk for Michael from a man whose farm has been ransacked by soldiers. She tries to pretend she is an aristocrat in order to smuggle Michael onto a coach heading into safety but is found out. She attempts to leave Michael with a peasant couple whose farm is as yet untouched by violence but two Ironshirts are on her trail. She overcomes one of them before escaping with Michael. They reach the Jungu Tau glacier, where there is a bridge she must cross. But the bridge is rotten and merchants try to persuade her not to risk it. As the Ironshirts get closer, she takes the chance, steps onto the swaying bridge and makes it safely to the other side. Finally, she accepts Michael as her own child. IN THE NORTHERN MOUNTAINS Expecting comfort and safety after her extraordinary journey, Grusha gets neither from her brother. He and his pious wife, Aniko, are horrified by the thought of having a single mother in the house and take her in reluctantly, providing she works and keeps out of sight. Grusha spends a bleak winter in the scullery watching Michael grow up. When the snow begins to melt, and spring arrives, Lavrenti tells her she can’t stay any longer. He has arranged for her to marry a dying man so that she can become a widow, giving her some degree of legitimacy. For the sake of getting Michael an official document she agrees. But after the wedding the groom makes a miraculous recovery. He had been dodging conscription by

rehearsal pictures photo Catherine Ashmore

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The war ends. travels the country turning justice on its head. Hearing both arguments. accusing a rape victim of being a rapist herself. Simon is devastated at her betrayal. As she begins to explain to him what has happened. Azdak is nearly hanged by soldiers. THE STORY OF THE JUDGE Rewind to the day of the coup. the day Grusha took the child. he’s mine!” after them. Ironshirts seize Michael. Rather than risk being found out Azdak hands himself in. When he gets to the courtroom he sees the hanging bodies of authority figures and mistakenly interprets the revolution as a people’s revolt. reminding us of the prologue. Azdak promises to help Natella get her son back. He shelters him for the night only discovering after the man has gone that it was the Grand Duke himself. sympathising with an old woman clearly guilty of theft. Natella. the Fat Prince is killed and Natella Abashvilli returns from exile. has been poaching in the woods and come across someone he believes to be a refugee. Azdak invokes the ancient wisdom of the Chalk Circle: Michael is placed in the centre of a circle and whoever is strong enough to pull him out must be the right mother. Natella faints. Azdak judges that she must be the right mother. who abandoned him. The Singer explains that the child has been given to the mother who will be best for it – and. Everyone dances. He adjourns the court to hear the case of an old couple who want a divorce. Simon and Grusha thank Azdak. Azdak disappears. Returning to Michael’s case. expecting to be punished. or his natural mother. Hearing Grusha shout “He’s mine. Simon returns and comes to find Grusha in the mountains. Grusha won’t pull. THE CHALK CIRCLE Azdak is declared an enemy of the new regime and is stripped of his judge’s robes. Time passes. An uprising by the rebellious carpet weavers resulted in all the hangings and the soldiers were brought in to suppress them. who has cared for him and put herself through hell for him. that the land should go to whoever is right for it. with his trusty assistant Shauva. Azdak is unable to decide. who escaped the clutches of the rebellious princes. The village clerk. The Fat Prince brings his nephew to be ratified as the new judge (the old judge had been killed by the carpet weavers) but the soldiers. doling out law as he sees fit. after testing the nephew in a mock trial in which Azdak accuses the Fat Prince of profiting from the Persian war. national theatre education workpack 4 . who signs the divorce papers – not the divorce of the old couple but Grusha’s divorce from the man she married in the mountains. as a thank you for saving his life that Easter Sunday. Frightened that his behaviour over the last couple of years will land him in trouble now that order is restored. Grusha again cannot pull. make Azdak judge instead. He is about to be hanged when a messenger arrives announcing the Grand Duke would like Azdak to remain as judge.Synopsis pretending to be ill and Grusha is now forced into an unhappy existence. Michael grows up and she reluctantly becomes a wife. Over two years Azdak. His shouts of joy are interrupted by a soldier who tells him he’s got it all wrong: it’s not a people’s revolution but a military coup. He tells them he’ll think about it. Azdak orders the women to repeat the trial. Azdak presides over a trial in which he must judge who gets Michael – Grusha. she cannot hurt him. Finally the Grand Duke comes back. Azdak.

Some of the technology used in rehearsal and performance photo Ed Dimsdale national theatre education workpack 5 . designers. more and more material was gathered and ideas offered – from using a spy camera for the baby’s point-of-view to using a bin we found in the rehearsal room to make a bridge-creaking noise. actors. to stop censoring. video cameras. We began our rehearsals with two weeks at the National Theatre’s Studio. the mountain in front of the team is enormous. The idea is that this doesn’t diminish the audience’s belief in the world on stage but creates a playful environment which adds to the audience’s enjoyment. composers. Sean [director] says “I think we’ve learnt how to rehearse this play”. from discovering ways of denoting character through props. the actors rehearse for four or five weeks and then music and sound are added during the technical rehearsals on stage. from the obvious to the stupid. “Terrible is the temptation to do good” says the Singer – doing something good doesn’t necessarily bring good to yourself. another sound. Usually in theatre. We explored answers to difficult questions – how do we show the baby without bringing a baby onstage? How do we make a crowd with eight people? Over the course of a few days. of. For this collaboration. continually making and remoulding ideas.The Filter process Filter’s ideology is inclusive and democratic: everyone in the room is asked to contribute their skills and imagination. As we left the Studio. taking the essence of one and merging it with another. the musicians and sound designers are in rehearsal all the time. With just eight actors playing around 90 characters in a five-act play. props. With Filter. and begun to unearth the complex morality in the play. directors. then the audience should see how it is being done. Filter was founded on the belief that music and sound are an integral part of theatre and should be included in the process from day one. learnt that the play is written with absolute economy of storytelling. crossing the bridge or representing the Governor’s severed head. devising the production alongside the actors. to simply try everything. where we spent our remaining three weeks. What the company were trying to do was create an atmosphere that encourages imagination. for example. If someone is making a sound effect of footsteps crunching on snow. discovered the wonderful eclecticism in the writing. video has been added into the mix. realised that the behaviour of all of the characters is the behaviour of those in extremis. to evolving a language which allows every actor to be a character in every scene. or several ways. One group could use video. The other founding vision of the company is that the theatre-making process should be exposed. we had as many questions as answers but we had made crucial breakthroughs: developed a rehearsal language and shared references. Each group had 15 minutes to come up with a way. another just chairs – the rules changed as we went along but the basic principle remained. musical instruments. a range of technology. to find out how little or how much we need to tell this story. another nothing. We started with an exercise that became the foundation for our way of working over the next two weeks: we split into small groups. in a large room packed with a range of “stuff you can make theatre with” – costumes. Plus we built up a bank of ideas and theatrical techniques that can be applied and developed during rehearsals. The company shared solutions. furniture – as well as all of us. begun to appreciate the jagged nature of the writing (the way absurd humour and terrible horror can legitimately co-exist in the same moment). When we left the Studio to move to a rehearsal room at the National.

set by Karl von Appen and with Ernst Busch as Azdak and the Singer. while he was in exile in America. Brecht’s wife. The Rustaveli theatre company from Georgia toured a famous production in 1975. It wasn’t as though he radically rethought it. Northfield. I never really forgave him. The highly-acclaimed Swiss Théâtre de Vidy Lausanne performed the play in a new adaptation by Benno Besson at the home of the Berliner Ensemble in 2002. Peter Hall ended up taking over directing responsibilities from Gaskill. Sara Kestelman played Grusha and Patrick Magee The Singer. “I used a lot of improvisation” wrote Gaskill in his diaries. The company did not perform the prologue. Simon McBurney directed and played Azdak and Juliet Stevenson was Grusha. Eric Bentley went on to become a major Brecht scholar. when the National’s Olivier was turned into a theatre-in-the-round for a season. Michael Flanders played the Singer. but I was devastated when he said he’d [Hall] have to take over. The English-language premiere took place at the Aldwych Theatre in London in March 1962. Complicite undertook a major reappraisal of the play. In 1948 it had its premiere at Carleton College. Peter Gill (who now regularly directs productions for the National Theatre) played Bizergan Kazbecki. It was an RSC production adapted by John Holmstrom and directed by William Gaskill. Juliet Stevenson as Grusha in the 1997 Complicite production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle photo ??? national theatre education workpack 6 . Angelika Hurwicz as Grusha.” The BBC filmed The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1973. The company used a revolve and 40 actors. A Sense of Direction. It was a sensation. Two weeks after Brecht’s death in 1956 the production toured to London and Paris. directed by Robert Sturua. Minnesota in a translation by Eric and Maja Bentley. In 1997. They rehearsed for nine months. “and the actors panicked. Leo McKern played Azdak. as the Governor’s Wife. The Berliner Ensemble performed the play in 1954 with music by Paul Dessau. and Helene Weigel.Production history Brecht wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Ralph Richardson turned down Peter Hall’s request [Peter Hall was then Artistic Director of the RSC] to be in it: “I am sorry that I cannot see what you perceive in the Brecht play – it is no doubt blindness in me. They decided it was unwise to do so given the situation in Soviet Georgia at the time. I was very bitter.” Hugh Griffith took the part.

The more you work the more clearly you can interpret the codes. That’s the key to his theatre – he’s always exact. What do you think Brecht intended the audience to take from this play? He wanted people to enjoy it and not be ashamed of enjoying it. I see it as a fabulous device. I came out of working on Chalk Circle with a great respect for Brecht as a writer. deliberate. scholarly literal translation. And how does Chalk Circle compare? Chalk Circle is a more ambitious play. adapter Frank McGuinness was interviewed by Associate Director. early in rehearsals for The Caucasian Chalk Circle How do you go about adapting a play? I get a detailed. Elizabeth Freestone. I didn’t do them separately – there is no break in my mind between the prose and the poetry. What’s your feeling about the role of the Singer and the musicians? The play was written at the end of the war. But even with the most demanding and rewarding play you get to a point where you have to leave it aside. it’s just for me to use as my building blocks. There’s an unquenchable joy at the heart of it and much of that is found in the music. something terrible defeated. There’s a sense of relief in the play – something mighty has been endured. liberating for both the writer and the actors because it allows enormous accuracy of feeling to be communicated without linguistic excess. The translation should be full and uncut. Do you worry about grammatical differences between the German and the English? I’m thinking in particular of the formality between Simon and Grusha which is perhaps easier to understand in German. which Marianne Faithfull appeared in. What is your rewriting process? Writing and rewriting an adaptation is all about learning the secrets of another writer. Is The Caucasian Chalk Circle the first Brecht play you have adapted? No. No. The simplicity in his writing is the product of an extraordinary poetic intelligence. How did you approach the songs? The songs are an absolutely integral part of the play. I did The Threepenny Opera at the Gate in Dublin. better written as a theatre piece although the songs in The Threepenny Opera are wonderful. the obvious repetition – all of them are meant. The easy rhymes. It can read strangely if necessary: it should have no claims for literary style. The flicker of sweetness in the play is there to Frank McGuinness photo: Ed Dimsdale national theatre education workpack 7 .Interview with Frank McGuinness. I will do the text in its entirety even if ultimately some bits are cut. He is incredibly knowledgeable in his use of metre and imagery. It is an extraordinary vision of the human struggle – he had more hope for the species than he preached. But it was doing The Threepenny Opera that I realised what a fine and accomplished poet he is. Brecht loves language – he puts such store on the pleasure of the human ear. I don’t look at other versions. By that I mean there’s a prosaic quality to the poetry and a poetic quality to the prose that is wonderful to work on. Do you have an idea of what you want to bring to the play before you start? I usually have a working knowledge of the play and its production history before I start but I never pre-judge or pre-plan what I’m going to do. This is because I could come across something that seems nothing initially but as I get to know the play more I might realise it is a crucial detail. The translation should be by a reputable scholar with an ear for language. There’s a belief in happiness in the play: the ending is in fact a tentative beginning.

but how do you feel about what you’ve seen so far? It is already clear from rehearsals that this will be a radical reworking of the play. Straight translations can last for much longer but adaptations are deliberately of their moment and become period pieces much quicker than the original. [It is interesting to see what Brecht wrote about the prologue: “The questions posed by the parable must be seen to derive from the necessities of reality. How are you finding it stands up nearly ten years later? I’m really pleased by how it is standing up. Today. It will be an eye-opener to how you can do Brecht. How do you feel about the prologue? People often find it difficult and many productions cut it. as he was writing The Caucasian Chalk Circle] and that he certainly wouldn’t let the bastards on the other side grind him down either. And he loved Germany deeply so having to leave it must have been terrible. Only when I learnt how he got his hands dirty in his theatre did I realise how much he knew. It’s one of the best literary jokes but with an absolutely steel sense of purpose – the Singer’s “No” at the end of the prologue is Brecht siding with the poets. not his theories. His humour and hope saved him from the severity of his own politics. imposed a single reading but his plays are better than that. nothing overwritten. In fact. even when at his most didactic. which is incredibly hard. Finally. we’re still in the early days of rehearsal. And as for expecting the audience not to feel emotion? Look at the end of Mother Courage. usually about 20 years or so. I never thought it would be done again. He puts a deaf girl on stage. Brecht used his theories as a form of censorship by saying there’s only one way to do his plays. There’s nothing missing. Chalk Circle is not a folk tale.Frank McGuinness temper his most stringent pills. But the audience shouldn’t cry. It’s him saying that the House Un-American Activities didn’t grind him down [Brecht appeared before the Committee in 1946. He was reductive of his own work – he’s his own best champion and his own worst enemy! Because of that contradiction we should never forget what a great comic he is. the theory often weighs down the plays. Great plays – and there are no great plays other than strange plays and Chalk Circle is certainly a strange play – can last forever. Without the prologue you miss a whole dimension. in effect. Did you study Brecht’s theories when you were working on the play? When I started out I thought his theories were smug and overwritten and not helpful to someone trying to examine him as a writer. Without the prologue it is not evident why the play has not remained ‘The Chinese Chalk Circle’ ”] This version was performed in 1997 by Complicite. The prologue is the key to the play. That’s not sentimentality. He. national theatre education workpack 8 . constantly refining it. How do you think that affected his writing? He experienced poverty and homelessness and had to write without having a theatre. it’s a mark of how tough he is. Adaptations are about deciphering secrets and some we get. leaving her mother childless. Do the plays work or not? That’s all that matters. it is also a great theatrical in-joke – it’s a marvellously subtle piece of Chekhovian writing. Really?! Brecht wrote this play in exile [in America]. I believe adaptations have a life span. I really think Brecht is parodying Chekhov – the prologue is full of nuances and tiny character revelations. who bangs a drum to save children from dying and has her shot. I did a lot of work on it in 1997. a new theatrical language will need to be evolved in rehearsal and that process is well underway. Becoming a refugee gave him a tremendous sympathy with the dispossessed which burns through Chalk Circle. some we don’t. It’s his practical work that makes him great. and the payoff is that it is in robust shape today. From the way this production is moving. I see the theories now with more respect but still believe his politics were often ludicrous. Music will be a fiercely important character in this show. streamlining the narrative. And I’m thrilled to see how it will work in the Cottesloe.

It has been interesting for us to identify what kind of language Brecht uses at certain moments and to question why he makes those choices. and he cut his own foot off. physical (“A pain beneath the right shoulder but nothing more”) and character (“Is the lady inclined to impatience?”) grounds. and the underlying rhythm be a preparation and an accompaniment for the entry of the governor’s family. He differentiates character through strong choices in their speech patterns – for example. Brecht wrote extensive notes on how the play should be interpreted theatrically. the song Grusha sings to keep up her spirits as she walks into the Northern Mountains.. said the serving boy. the Governor’s Wife’s hyperbole. On the other hand it is a real debate about human behaviour. practical engagement scene. none the less it must be thin and delicate. The actors’ interpretations of these – and the musicians’ interpretations of the different kinds of songs – are crucial to the colour and feel of our production. the Grand Duke’s clipped tones. idiosyncratic dialogue and wonderful poetry. Here’s what he wrote about the music: “Aside from certain songs which take personal expression [presumably Brecht is thinking here of moments such as ‘Hear what she thought but did not say’ in Act 4] the storyteller’s music need only display a cold beauty. On the one hand it is an absurd exchange borne simply of Simon’s frustration and Azdak’s willingness to take up the challenge.. between peasant songs and exquisite rhyme. a dazzling display of verbal dexterity that ends with Simon being fined 10 piastres for contempt of court: SIMON: ‘It’s a lovely day... is a rousing folk number. Riddles There’s a riddle duel between Azdak and Simon in Act 5. For Act 2 (‘The Flight Into The Northern Mountains’) the theatre calls for the thrustful music to hold this extremely epic act together. The last act demands a good dance at the end. like Shakespeare jumping from prose into a soliloquy. funny and pointed at the same time. The opening song of Act 1 should have something barbaric about it. GRUSHA: And when you do come back from battle No boots will stand before my door No head will touch my pillow No lips will touch mine with a kiss. It’s also a lovely moment for the audience – we have become used to Simon’s very particular way of speaking and here Brecht doesn’t deny us the theatrical enjoyment of seeing him engage with the great talker of the play.. funeral and wedding music in contrast with each other. makes their union dignified and emotionally complete.Language The Caucasian Chalk Circle is a linguistically rich play with its extraordinary mixture of songs. The musical basis of the five acts needs to be clearly varied. Simon and Grusha’s union is built on financial (“I earn 10 piastres a month”).’ The duel is meaningless and meaningful. Simon’s formality. Grusha bursts into a deeply moving speech promising to be faithful. Poetry As Simon prepares to leave for the war. for its main scene.. The move into poetry.. Act 3 has the melting snow music (poetical) and. said the angler to the worm. When you walk through my door You will whisper sweet and low Everything is now as it once was. The scene up until this point has been a cool.” Nicolas Tennant (Azdak) and Ferdy Roberts (Simon) photo: Edward Dimsdale national theatre education workpack 9 . shall we go fishing?’ AZDAK: ‘I’m my own master. He switches fluently between earthy jokes and parable. Songs Sosso Robakidse. Azdak..

. Out of your palace follow you the eyes of many enemies! You need no architects more. Frank McGuinness’ version is published by Methuen. great lord! Deign to walk upright. complete and faithful to the German. A hole in the ground is your destination. but into a little hole in the ground. Ian Dury. Take. These are just some of the issues relating to language that we’ve discussed in rehearsal. Weill. You will move into no new palace. for example. and what Frank McGuinness is after in our version. have all come up in rehearsal and make an appearance in the show in some shape or form. Look about you one more time. Take one last look about you. but into a little hole in the ground. blind man. blind man! THE PRISONER LOOKS ABOUT HIM Do you like what you had? Between Easter mass and meal You are going there from where no one returns HE IS LED OFF. Do you see where you stood and where you now stand? Between Easter Mass and Easter feed You’ll turn into dust and rock and seed. it started out first with the Chinese. walk even now with head up. Steve Reich and Danny Elfman. great man. keep your head up high. From your palace the eyes of many foes follow you! You no longer need an architect. Forget all about a fine new mansion. No more mighty builders for you.” We have drawn on the genre that we feel tells the story in the most economical and dynamic way from moment to moment. The Specials. what the Singer says to the Governor as he is led away to be executed in ‘The Mighty Child’. “it came from very long ago. Hindemith. You will not move into a new palace. And here’s McGuinness’ version: Well. He doesn’t say “this should be a jazz number” or “this one’s a country song”. James and Tania Stern’s translation of The Caucasian Chalk Circle (with some lyrics by WH Auden) is the most readily available. It’s about feel. Translation It has been interesting to compare the literal translation with other adaptations to help us get as close as possible to discovering what Brecht is after. not defining genre. Your enemies followed you with their many eyes. For example. we’ve changed it as we went along into another version. Here’s the Stern version: Walk. for example. a carpenter will do.Language Leo Chadburn (The Singer and co-composer) and Chris Branch (Music) describe their process for this production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle: Leo Chadburn: What Brecht says is very musical and instinctive: “thin and thrustful”. Now a poor carpenter will have to do. Chris Branch: Moving between genres is one of the tools we’ve used to create contrast in the music. Your Highness. it is enough for you a carpenter. . We worked on the music by discovering texture. and putting it next to a Laurie Anderson-like song from the Singer. It is comprehensive. Amongst others. taking material from an old Cornish folk tune sung by Grusha. As the Singer explains in the Prologue. Here’s the literal: For always. generates a striking change in feel that shifts the place and perspective. you blind man! Does all you once possessed still please you? Between the Easter mass and the banquet You are walking to the place from which no one returns.. rhythm and atmosphere rather than setting a particular genre for a particular song. Just look about you once more.

asking him the questions Brecht wants the audience to be thinking.Language It’s clear that Brecht is after a strong focus on the Governor. ambitious structure. Brecht wrote that The Caucasian Chalk Circle “is partly conditioned by a revulsion against the commercialized dramaturgy of Broadway” He deliberately made it a mish-mash of styles. The introduction of rhyme makes the speech clipped and light as well as definite and brutal. changing “going” into “walking” in the last line. The final line is loaded with the imagery of “ashes to ashes. The Singer talks directly to the Governor. This mixture of humour and lyricism is typical of Frank’s version of the play. national theatre education workpack 11 . The Sterns’ version is more active than the literal. He wants the audience to get a good look as it’s the last time we’ll see him. Frank’s version also adds a rougher quality to the Singer’s treatment of the Governor. with eclectic storytelling and a risky. creating a picture of the Governor’s final moments. for example. dust to dust” and gives the audience a clear picture of this man’s disappearance into history.

edu/ The Caucasus Mountains are part of a huge range that runs through Georgia. Azerbaijan. is the highest peak in Europe. it doesn’t always add up. standing at 18.Geography: epic restlessness The prologue is set in a mountain village somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. T’bilisi is the capital of Georgia. T’bilisi and Saki map source: University of Texas Libraries. But. Austin www. Kutsk. The range extends for about 750 miles from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Black Sea in the east. national theatre education workpack 12 . University of Texas. is a town not far west of there – this is probably the town of K’ut’aisi. The northern range (presumably the Northern Mountains of the play) has a number of peaks higher than 15. the place where the Fat Prince met with all the other princes to plot the overthrow of the Grand Duke. Brecht writes about Grusha following the Grusinian Highway up to the mountains. found in the Caucasus. We had a map on our rehearsal room wall. K’ut’aisi. but the places mentioned are actually a mixture of towns in Georgia and Azerbaijan. It is useful to work through the journeys many of the characters take in the play and research the distances and terrain. Brecht is cavalier in his interest in geographical detail. In the 19th century the Russians built “the Georgian Military Road” through the Caucasus. It’s the character’s situation. the only way that vehicles could cross. where the Governor’s palace is and where Simon and Grusha both live and work. not the environmental facts. Nukha. Nukha was renamed Sheki (or Shaki). Mount Elbrus.utexas. is actually in Azerbaijan. In the 1960s. that is his priority. underneath the Caucasus Mountains. The story the Singer tells is set in Georgia too. Armenia.000 ft.lib. where Simon is from. Like Shakespeare. and southwest Russia and are considered a boundary between Europe and Asia.500 ft.

On a biographical note. like the Chorus in Henry V • Azdak as Toby Belch. the way they ranged from the monarchical to the base. for a specific space. or a “Shakespearean wise man playing the fool” • A woman fleeing in disguise from a court in crisis like Rosalind in As You Like It • Journeying and travel – like the panoramic time and place jumps of the Histories • Villainous rulers – could you play The Fat Prince like Richard III? • A moral test like Measure for Measure • The use of song as in Twelfth Night • The reconciliation at the end and ending with a dance • The language moving between the rough and the beautiful in the same way Shakespeare uses prose and poetry Brecht also had a collective of performers in mind when writing his plays. Brecht was also aware of the similarities in working methodology. often writing for a specific actor. from royalty to peasantry. Above all he appreciated their political coherence mixed with real human detail. the clown.” national theatre education workpack 13 . Here are some to think about: • The play having the mood of Shakespeare: broad knockabout comedy followed by terrible violence • The Singer as a narrator. There are many ways that Shakespeare’s influence is felt in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. the scenes constantly shifting location. a comic genius. called Michael. Here’s Brecht’s contribution to the ongoing debate of who wrote Shakespeare’s plays: “[I believe] a small collective produced Shakespeare’s plays. the thrilling fluidity of the writing. and later. he wrote the part of Azdak specifically for his friend Oscar Homolka. I recognize the working methods of a collective. Compare this to Shakespeare writing for Will Kemp. Brecht had a son by Ruth Berlau. who died very young in September 1944 when Brecht was writing The Caucasian Chalk Circle. With The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The death of Shakespeare’s son Hamnet is obviously reflected in his greatest play.Shakespeare Brecht admired Shakespeare hugely: the scope of his plays.

but because his needs were so intense and because he knew he could get away with it. hoping he will not get the death penalty for ruling against the powerful Mrs Ma. He had a discerning eye and ear for a good story. fairytales. is a very corrupt judge and lets his clerk Zhao question Haitang. an Oscar-winning actress. and gets Zhao to bribe witnesses to say that she is the boy's mother. Zhao. Haitang persuades her mother to let her marry Lord Ma.Sources Brecht was accused of plagiarism throughout his career and of not properly acknowledging his (mostly female) co-writers. who gives Mrs Zhang a hundred ounces of silver. Some midwives have been bribed and testify falsely that Mrs Ma is the mother of the boy. In fact he was fascinated with the chalk circle judgement throughout his career. historical fact. Zhanglin. The perjuring midwives are to get eighty lashes and the corrupt constables a hundred lashes. Brecht was fascinated with the bible all his life. The governor. Instead he gave it to friends who performed it in student productions. but they technically belong to Mrs Ma. resents this. Brecht developed the themes into a short story called The Augsburg Chalk Circle. Afraid his sister is too intimidated to testify. In 1940. ancient fables. Zhengzhou. national theatre education workpack 14 . but her brother Zhanglin finds them and learns the truth. He makes everyone go to the court of the Gaifengfu governor. Later he would be charged with plagiarism – an accusation he would admit and dismiss with his usual sangfroid. written in 1932. and the character of Grusha. Each time Haitang lets go so that the boy's arms will not be injured.” RONALD HAYMAN: “Brecht gave a great deal and took a great deal. the bible. Whether it was from the present or the past. Her son. He met her in October 1943 whilst in exile in America and asked her what she wanted to play on Broadway. He originally wrote The Caucasian Chalk Circle. accuses Haitang of murdering her husband. One of his earliest plays. not because of what he gave. as a vehicle for Luise Rainer. Bao Zheng concludes that the cruel Mrs Ma stole the child and gets Zhao to tell the whole story. he was ruthless both with women and with men who were younger or weaker than he was. But Haitang isn’t Lord Ma’s first wife. The story of the original Chinese play The Chalk Circle [This is a potted version of a longer tale] Mrs Zhang has been supported financially all her life by her daughter Haitang. The two women are to pull on the arms of the boy to see who is the real mother. Two constables are taking Haitang to prison in Gaifengfu and stop at a tavern. a parody of the biblical Solomon story. She thought of The Chalk Circle. FREDERIC EWEN: “His powers of absorption were unlimited. who gives her poison to murder her husband. who worked as a prostitute. But he fell out with Luise Rainer and the project was shelved. who hands them to Zhanglin as her own gift. The first Mrs Ma is secretly in love with the clerk of the court. Then Mrs Ma tells her husband that Haitang gave the things to her lover. he was commissioned by an American producer and started his version in April 1944. The Caucasian Chalk Circle perfectly matched both obsessions. After his discussion with Luise Rainer. What he absorbed he used. Bao Zheng. moulding both original and found material into a new dimension and adding his own theatrical flair.” Like many great writers (his hero Shakespeare included). but he is disciplined for contempt of court. was Man Is Man. she says she has only her clothes and jewels. He exposes her life as a prostitute and accuses her of killing her husband and stealing from Mrs Ma. Brecht was a friend of Klabund’s and knew the play well. He felt entitled to take. It had been a hit for Elisabeth Bergner in Berlin in 1924. Zhanglin tries to relate what happened. Bao Zheng questions Haitang and orders a circle drawn with chalk. originally a 14th-century Chinese play by Li Hsing-Dao that Klabund had adapted. Perhaps his greatest skill was as a play-shaper. Haitang has a son but Mrs Ma claims the son is hers (which will mean she gets the estate). he could take generously. and she puts poison in the soup that Haitang hands to Lord Ma. Skillful at manipulating people. The judge Zhengzhou is removed from office. The first draft was completed in June. and had a dabbling interest in all things oriental. Haitang is questioned and tortured until she makes a false confession. who dies from it. Brecht was magpie-like in his ability to steal from all kinds of sources – existing plays. Impoverished Zhanglin begs his sister Haitang for help. Augsburg was where he grew up. They have been paid by Zhao to kill her.

Sources Mrs Ma and Zhao are to be executed in the public square by Zhanglin. Then King Solomon said “Each of you claims the living child is hers and that the dead one belongs to the other one.” photo Ed Dimsdale national theatre education workpack 15 .” And so they argued before the king. Give it to the first woman – she is its real mother. The story of Solomon (1 Kings 3: 16-28) One day. then she put the dead child in my bed. Then one night she accidentally rolled over on her baby and smothered it. “Please your Majesty. She got up during the night. and carried him to her bed. took my son from my side while I was asleep. two prostitutes came and presented themselves before King Solomon.” But the other woman said “Don’t give it to either of us. Only the two of us were present in the house – no one else was present. when I woke up and was going to feed my baby. Two days after my child was born she also gave birth to a baby boy. The next morning.” But the other woman said “No! The living one is mine and the dead one is yours. this woman and I live in the same house. I looked at it more closely and saw that it was not my child.” Then Solomon said “Don’t kill the child. don’t kill the child. One of them said “Your majesty. I saw that it was dead. give it to her.” He sent for a sword and when it was brought he said “Cut the living child in two and give each woman half of it. go ahead and cut it in two. her heart full of love for her son said to the king. and I gave birth to a baby boy at home while she was there.” The real mother. and Haitang is reunited with her son.” The first woman answered “No! The dead child is yours and the living one is mine.

Designing The Caucasian Chalk Circle ANTHONY LAMBLE’S PREPARATION Anthony Lamble’s sketches towards the set design for this production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle national theatre education workpack 16 .

sacrificing what you most want. the difficulty of choice. and reminds us of the Prologue. Grusha and Azdak. We found it useful to identify one big theme for each of the two stories in the play. The conflict between reason and instinct “Terrible is the temptation to do good” (The Singer talks to Grusha as she is about to take the child in Act 1) The definition of justice as determined by the needs of life “The law must be treated with complete seriousness because it’s complete bollocks” (Azdak talks to the soldiers in Act 4) The debate between nature and nurture “What there is shall go to those who are good for it” (The Singer addresses the audience in Act 5) national theatre education workpack 17 . doing the right thing. and then the theme that plays out when they come together in the final act.Themes There are many themes in the play – the totality of war.

Each of these presents challenges to us in terms of both design decisions and of how we approach the play. Our view of the second world war.” And we meet soldiers who make us laugh one minute. 1945 When Brecht wrote the prologue he was writing about his contemporary world. 2006 It is easy for every play performed during times of international crisis to seem to be about war. But the prologue is inhabited by characters who have been fighting with tanks and bullets. the director has a choice to make about whether they simply acknowledge this and let the audience see the world of the play through the prism of the contemporary world in whatever fashion they choose. but loves her dresses more. ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. untinged with the straightforward romanticism of a Russian victory on the Eastern front. The theatrical challenge here is to make sure every character has a real need and a human truth – the Governor’s Wife for example isn’t just a bitch. or come on as actors in 2006. It is incredibly important to us to fully explore the politics of Brecht’s contemporary world as well as his fictional world. Once this foundation was solid we found we could then colour the characters in deeper shades and expand their theatricality. and when it is being performed. who then perform a play. Committing to the truth of the prologue is vital for the play to have substance. The long ago This is fairytale land in the play – the names of the characters are pantomime (The Fat Prince) and the action is often farcical (the simultaneous wedding/funeral). who then play characters from 1945. from the first line of the play which talks about Nazis. learn the odd piece of information about the economic situation – “Three piastres for that dribble?” / “Milk’s gone up. The big decision for a director is whether the actors come on playing Soviet characters from 1945 who then perform a play. when it is set. and of ex-Soviet Bloc countries is completely different now. There is a lot of violence in The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The resonances of post-war Europe form a bass-note that hums throughout the play. This idea will be in the audience’s thinking when they sit down in the auditorium. Exploring using video in portraying some of the violence in the play has thrown up fascinating questions of how we are asking our audience to believe stage violence. hear bits of information about a foreign war. or whether s/he leads them to certain conclusions and points certain moments. she’s a woman who loves her son.Timeframes The play exists for us in three timeframes – when it was written. But at its heart is a strong political current: we see glimpses of a country in chaos. and sick the next. It’s interesting to us that inside the story there are no guns: Brecht’s historicism means the weapons are spears and swords. national theatre education workpack 18 . to the Governor’s head being nailed on a wall. Again. Without it the play is incomplete. And we’re watching it now with a deep visual and sense memory of televised violence from recent.

THE DEMOCRATIC JUDGE In Los Angeles. with a truly careless. improvising with Azdak as the judge and Shauva as the Prosecutor. as a consequence of which he begins to dispense bourgeois justice. he answered A third question: For how long a term are our Presidents elected? Once more with: 1492. That is why Azdak has to have those selfish. even stupid sometimes – Brecht allows us to grow in our judgement of her as she grows into her role as a mother. in a loud voice). downright bad judge. who liked the man.” Below is a poem that Brecht wrote whilst in exile in America. An interesting exercise to do might be to stage the scene. serving the absolute selfinterest of the judge. Now The judge. amoral. Since the law demands that applicants know the language He was refused. though. Brecht on Azdak: “The problem of how to construct the figure of Azdak held me up for two weeks until I realised the social reason for his behaviour. and be the lowest and most decrepit of judges. asked him How he earned his living and was told: by hard work. but in a degenerate. but I realised I had to show how. And so At his fourth appearance the judge gave him the questions: When Was America discovered? And on the strength of his correctly answering 1492. And I found it in his disappointment that the fall of the old rulers did not bring about a new age. ignorant. by his ignorance of the new language In the test he replied to the question: What is the 8th Amendment? falteringly: 1492. But I was still lacking some basic cause of a social kind. And Azdak. (Given amiably. I knew I couldn’t just show that the law as it exists has to be bent if justice is to be done. Without his contradictions. And by not making Grusha a typical heroine – she is stubborn. he was granted his citizenship. things can turn out all right for those who are actually in need of justice. the authority of the test of the chalk circle would be weakened. After grave preparations Hindered. under which the poor came off well. He found both hard to write. national theatre education workpack 19 . By making Azdak amoral and unpredictable the issue of good versus bad is satisfyingly complicated for the audience. She becomes the isolated individual at odds with the world in which she suffers. Sent away again And returning a third time. before the judge who examines people Trying to become citizens of the United States Came an Italian restaurant keeper.Character: “it’s really two stories” The Caucasian Chalk Circle is the only one of Brecht’s plays to have two such rounded and complex leading characters as Azdak and Grusha. is the man who will judge her behaviour. At first all I had was his disgraceful handling of the law. Returning After three months spent on further studies Yet hindered still by ignorance of the new language He was confronted with the question: Who was The victorious general in the Civil War? His answer was: 1492. realised he could not Learn the new language. but just an age of new rulers. parasitic features. subversive fashion. whom we enjoy but are confused by.

a beast of burden. the more she does to save the child’s life the more she endangers her own.Character: “it’s really two stories” BRECHT ON GRUSHA: “Grusha should be simple and look like Brueghel’s ‘Mad Meg’. .” “She is a sucker. . long suffering and not incorruptible.” Cath Whitefield (who plays Grusha) annotated her script during rehearsals national theatre education workpack 20 . She should be stubborn and not rebellious. submissive and not good.

Epic Theatre EPIC THEATRE: POLITICS. in the run of the action. The drama he recommends makes each scene exist for itself. 4. The drama Brecht opposes involves the spectator in the stage action and consumes his capacity to act: in the drama he recommends the spectator is an observer and his capacity to act is awakened. and develops by sudden leaps. The drama he opposes makes one scene exist for the sake of another. as a thing to be looked at. The drama he opposes presents experience. drawing the spectator in until he is experiencing the action with the characters: the drama he recommends presents a view of the world in DRAMATIC THEATRE Plot implications the spectator in a stage situation wears down his capacity for action provides him with sensations Experience the spectator is involved in something Suggestion instinctive feelings are preserved the spectator is in the thick of it. as an evolutionary necessity. under the spell of the action. The drama he opposes takes man. EPIC THEATRE the human being is the object of the inquiry he is alterable and able to alter eyes on the course each scene for itself Montage in curves Jumps man as process social being determines thought Reason national theatre education workpack 21 . The drama he recommends shows man producing himself in the course of action and therefore subject to criticism and change. 3. shares the experience the human being is taken for granted he is unalterable eyes on the finish one scene makes another Growth Linear development evolutionary determinism man as fixed point thought determines being Feeling Narrative Turns spectator into an observer arouses his capacity for action forces him to take decisions picture of the world he is made to face something Argument brought to the point of recognition the spectator stands outside. studies which the spectator confronts and is made to study what he sees. 2. as known. PREACHING AND PERSUASION Brecht’s theory of theatre in four main points: (From Raymond Williams: Drama from Ibsen to Brecht) 1. given. inevitable.

Another idea we have been exploring is using sound to help with the doubling problems thrown up by the play. critical engagement. “One good actor is worth a whole battalion of extras” said Brecht. the ‘onstage’ musician in this production photo Ed Dimsdale This might involve a musician being on stage all of the time during the scene. there would be objective. Shauva with his gallows. by echoing voices or sampling recordings we can achieve very simply with one effect what we’d never be able to achieve with our small cast otherwise. To this we added a musician who could play on request whenever the character requires it. he can play with the musician as a character in the scene. the musician is on stage in the action rather than hidden far upstage. Brecht’s ideal was that “the theatre will stop pretending to be the theatre. The company celebrates the technical skill involved in making theatre by firstly exposing it to the audience and secondly by making it part of the action.” Filter’s founding philosophy is that nothing should be hidden from the audience. In the script Azdak has a travelling menagerie wherever he goes to dispense justice: an Ironman with a flag. very obviously providing the sound effects the actors need. When faced with how we show crowds of petitioners for example.Epic Theatre What is basically being attacked is “the illusion of reality” so. We have eight actors in this production. and one Singer. and when the script calls for the next song. Or it might mean that cueing a song to start becomes a running joke in the play – Azdak’s relationship with the music that accompanies him for example. Tom Haines. The actor can use these as a judge’s gavel to help the storytelling in the scene. Azdak’s chair was therefore specially adapted to be able to take drums and cymbals. national theatre education workpack 22 . instead of subjective involvement.

Wall Street crash. Nazis revoke Brecht’s citizenship. written with Margarete Steffin. 1930 The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny in Leipzig. later the home of the Berliner Ensemble. then Denmark. She is referred to in the play in the name of the wine-making kolchos of the prologue. 1928 The Threepenny Opera opens at the Am Schiffbauerdamn Theatre in Berlin. 1943 The Visions of Simone Machard and Schweyk In The Second World War completed. future collaborator. The Roundheads. Second World War begins. future collaborator. 1927 Mahagonny song cycle. Stalingrad. 1923 In The Jungle Of The Cities in Munich. He Who Said Yes. Moves to Berlin. Receives the Kleist Prize for young writers. Writes Mr Puntilla And His Man Matti with Hella Wuolijoki. Brecht moves his family to California via Moscow (where Steffin dies) and Vladivostok. 1935 Travels to Moscow and then on to New York for The Mother. Hitler appointed Chancellor. 1945 English version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle completed by James and Tania Stern and WH Auden. Meets Ruth Berlau. 1937 Trip to Paris to see his Señora Carrara’s Rifles. Spanish civil war. Makes notes for a version of Chalk Circle to be set in Denmark in 11th century. 1917 Enroles as a medical student at Munich University. 1934 Hitler becomes Fuhrer. Son Frank born to girlfriend Paula Banholzer This was also the year that the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg was murdered. 1940 Moves to Finland to avoid Nazi invasion. He Who Said No in Berlin. Marries Marianne Zoff. Meets Helene Weigel who gives birth to their son Stefan. In LA the Brechts are classed as “enemy aliens”. Completes The Good Person of Szechwan and The Trial of Lucullus. 1929 Writes first of his “learning plays” (Lehrstücke). Works with WH Auden on The Duchess Of Malfi. 1936 Trip to London. 1925 Klabund’s The Chalk Circle in Berlin directed by Max Reinhardt. Second World War ends. starring Lotte Lenya. Bombing of Pearl Harbour by Japan. future collaborator. Writes The Caucasian Chalk Circle. first collaboration with Kurt Weill. 1944 Red Army drives Nazis out of the Caucasus. meeting other exiles and Hollywood stars including Charlie Chaplin and Charles Laughton. 1926 Man Is Man in Darmstadt. 1918 Military service as a medical orderly in Augsburg. 1933 28 February The burning of the Reichstag – the following day Brecht flees with his family to Zurich and then settles in Denmark. writes Baal. Anschluss (annexation of Austria into Greater Germany). Production recorded by Ruth Berlau in the first of what were to become the Berliner’s famous ‘Model Books’. 1938 The Life of Galileo completed. Bertolt Brecht photo © Corbis national theatre education workpack 23 . Marries Weigel. Nazis advance into Caucasus. a short story set in 30 Years War. brings US into war. 1921 Second trip to Berlin: observes the great director Max Reinhardt in rehearsal. 1920 First trip to Berlin. 1939 Moves to Sweden. English version of The Life of Galileo completed by Brecht and Charles Laughton. Meets Margarete Steffin. Germany. 1942 Lives in America. 1922 Drums In The Night in Munich and then Berlin. Helene Weigel gives birth to daughter Barbara. 1924 Directs adaptation of Edward The Second in Munich. directed by Brecht. Begins studying Marx. D-Day: the start of Allied effort to liberate Germany from the Nazis. 1919 Participates in Karl Valentin’s political cabaret. Completes The Augsburg Chalk Circle. Mother Courage in Zurich. Divorces Marianne Zoff.Timeline: Brecht’s life and work 10 February 1898 Brecht born Augsburg. Meets Elizabeth Hauptmann. Baal in Leipzig. Daughter Hanne born to Marianne Zoff. 1941 Completes The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. 1931 Man Is Man in Berlin starring Peter Lorre directed by Brecht 1932 The Mother in Berlin.

Completes adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Accepts Stalin prize in Moscow. Brecht becomes an adviser to the new East German Ministry of Culture. And I got my share of the new potatoes The cucumbers. 1948 Antigone directed with Caspar Neher starring Helene Weigel. I saw the lilac in Buckow. After 15 years in exile. Publishes the Little Organum For The Theatre. no serious enemies. Two weeks later Berliner Ensemble visit Palace Theatre. 1955 West German production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle omits prologue as politically inopportune. the market square in Bruges The canals of Amsterdam. 1951 Directs The Mother in Berlin. Brecht appears before the House Un-American Activities Committee. 1950 Becomes an Austrian citizen. Enough work. winning Best Play and Best Production at the Théâtre des Nations festival. The Caucasian Chalk Circle performed by Eric Bentley’s students in Minnesota. national theatre education workpack 24 . 1956 Brecht dies. London with The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Mother Courage. the Halles in Paris. strawberries. Mother Courage tours to Paris and is a sensation. 1949 Mother Courage with Weigel in title role prompts invitation to form state-subsidised Berliner Ensemble.Timeline: Brecht’s life and work 1947 The Life of Galileo in LA starring Charles Laughton. asparagus. 1953 Elected president of PEN. moves to East Berlin.T. Next day leaves for Europe. I read Voltaire's letters and Mao's essay on contradiction. Completes Days Of The Commune. I put on the Chalk Circle at the Berliner Ensemble. I enjoyed the kindness of delightful A. 1954 Berliner Ensemble takes up permanent residence at the Am Schiffbauerdamn Theatre. worldwide association of writers. 1954: First Half No serious sickness.

on the one hand. adaptable. can act clever people. ‘What you need’ a friend told him ‘is a theory. uplifted. set going.” ROBERT BRUSTEIN “Even at his most scientifically objective.” BRECHT ON ART “Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality. charismatic. set free. Brecht wasn’t getting much attention. Brecht continues to introduce a subjective note." “Epic theatre can show that almost naturalistic elements are within its range.” BRECHT ON ACTORS “Epic Theatre is an extremely artistic affair hardly thinkable without artists of virtuosity. democratic. It is not an art at all unless it does so. To make your stuff important. The concern of the epic theatre is thus eminently practical.” national theatre education workpack 25 . It works out scenes where people adopt attitudes of such a sort that the social laws under which they are acting spring into sight.” “The lightest way of life is in the arts. transplanted from their own time. wherever they are socio-historically significant.” “With rigidly epic presentation an acceptable empathy occurs. famous." “There is nothing so interesting on stage as a man trying to get a knot out of his shoelaces. production and rehearsal time were virtually unlimited. He added the role of the wise theatre veteran.” CHARLES LYONS “His plays are explorations of the quality of a single human action – the futile attempt of the human will to assert itself in a free act. which is now known to more people than the plays. whatever particular role he assigned himself on each occasion. to the flamboyant and spoiled child-genius of the past. and supplied with illusions. like Shakespeare and Molière in their time. in his blood. kept in suspense. and politically favored leader who shaped productions according to his own inclinations and theory. imagination.” BRECHT ON THEATRE "Human beings go to the theatre in order to be swept away. I would actually like to have been a cabinetmaker. he remains an essentially moral and religious poet..” JOHN RUSSELL BROWN “Brecht was. even if he is stupid.’ So Brecht went home and got himself a theory. but a hammer with which to shape it. impressed. diverted. Brecht physically feels the chaos and putrid decay of the times. .” “An actor. and part of a team.” RONALD HAYMAN “He had one gift in common with Jesus: they both knew how to state a complex truth about human behaviour in a provocative story with the resonance of a riddle. his Chinese-philosopher persona. Thus.Quotes “I have always needed the spur of contradiction” “In the contradiction lies the hope” BRECHT ON BEING A WRITER “I am a playwright.” JOHN RUSSELL BROWN “The Berliner Ensemble. . released. but of course you don’t earn enough doing that. even at his most social and political. horrified.” ACADEMICS ON BRECHT ERIC BENTLEY “Back in the early twenties.” HERBERT IHERING (when Brecht was 24) “Brecht is impregnated with the horror of this age in his nerves.” HERBERT LUETHY “Never has Brecht been able to indicate by even the simplest poetic image or symbol what the world for which he is agitating should really look like. humour and fellow-feeling. but on the other hand also a dominant.” BRECHT ON EMPATHY “If in art an appeal is made to the emotions it means reason has to be switched off. moved. Brecht had his own private theatre to mount productions of his own work.. was generously supported by the state: Brecht had sixty actors and two hundred and fifty staff members in all.” BRECHT ON EPIC THEATRE “The epic theatre is chiefly interested in the attitudes which people adopt towards one another. captivated.

as one moves on. We were unanimous in our admiration for the work. He would..” PETER HALL ON BRECHT AND SHAPING THE RSC “We used the Brecht model in a totally English way. the landmark is behind.Quotes THEATRE MAKERS ON BRECHT PETER BROOK “He really had almost a strangely split mind between the academic part of him that wrote theory and the man of the theatre who refused. say ‘I don’t know what idiot wrote this theory’ or ‘I don’t know what idiot wrote this part of the play’. everything. perhaps for different reasons. even in rehearsals. Tynan and myself stood with Weigel at Brecht’s graveside in the cemetery that he used to see from his workroom window. petty. national theatre education workpack 26 . like Sartre. Sartre knew all Kurt Weill's songs by heart and we often used to quote the catch phrase about grub first and morality afterwards. Ken Tynan arranged for us to visit Berlin and to see the work of Brecht’s company and to meet Helene Weigel. TYNAN: Why not Brecht? BURTON: Loathsome.” SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR “We knew nothing about Brecht but we were enchanted by the way he depicted the adventures of Mack the Knife. but like all landmarks.” JOAN LITTLEWOOD “Brecht. We believed that it set a standard to be emulated. never seemed to know exactly what he was saying. little. poetic. The work seemed to reflect a totally anarchic attitude.” BILL GASKILL ON BRECHT AND SHAPING THE NATIONAL “The idea of the Berliner Ensemble towered over us.” KENNETH TYNAN IN CONVERSATION WITH RICHARD BURTON IN 1956 TYNAN: Is there any great playwright whose work has never tempted you at all? BURTON: Brecht. The Oliviers. universal. John Dexter. nothing. TYNAN: Large. Cambridge rigour. vulgar.. I think he was a landmark in theatre history.

For example. Play around with a different storytelling style for each act. Identify the key line of the play. the National’s last Education tour: Look at the English/Irish scene. Their task is to show the character just before we meet them. eg. His Art and His Times by Frederic Ewen Brecht and Company: Sex. Look at the idea of time passing. What is the most efficient way you can find to tell the audience the whole story? For those schools or teachers who saw or worked on Translations. having been promoted. at the same time as maintaining the idea of a mass of a class? Write down all the different functions the narrator has in the play. How does the new information change our sympathies. translator. Grusha’s months of journeying to her brother’s house. translating feelings for us. For example. Look at Grusha’s decision-making moments in the play – taking the child. Paul Dessau (Lawrence and Wishart) Biographies Bertolt Brecht: His Life. Split the group into smaller groups. Find the essential moment of each act. interrogator. make the scene more complex? Now. Or s/he has just come from work. or psychological. Run each group’s idea followed by the original improvisation. Make a choice about what the character does. or using sound. crossing the bridge. What does the name suggest? Create a group picture of the title of each act. Make some of the big moments but give restrictions: perhaps make the bridge with just sound. marrying Jessup. or the palace coup with just chairs. Run the scene. with Lotte Lenya. Grusha takes the child in Act 1.Follow-up work Condense the play: write out the title of each act. Politics and the Making of the Modern Drama by John Fuegi Brecht: A Biography by Ronald Hayman Bertolt Brecht in America by James K Lyon In Context Brecht In Context by John Willett Drama From Ibsen To Brecht by Raymond Williams national theatre education workpack 27 . Ask what the character might be thinking. or at the side of the stage at the next. where Brecht jump cuts to each of the people she meets. What are the stages of development in her relationship with Michael? At what point does Grusha accept Michael as her own? How do you show this? What is the difference between the wealthy and the poor in the play? How do you show the differences between the characters as individuals. action version. Elizabeth Hauptmann. This could be literal. Compare it with the scene across the stream in Act 3 with Grusha and Simon and the Singer explaining their feelings. Azdak’s two years as a travelling judge – explore ways of showing these different qualities of time. try to make the scene as short as possible. Freeze it before the moment of choice. You could think about slow motion and fast action. commentator. storyteller. For example. Run it with someone playing a Brechtian narrator. Explore making a Brechtian version of the Translations scene – and a very naturalistic version of the Simon/Grusha scene. Explore different staging options for each role – s/he might be in the middle of the action at one point. For example: “Terrible is the temptation to do good. radio version. READING Bertolt Brecht Journals 1934–1955 (Methuen) Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913–1956 (Minerva) The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht (Methuen) Brecht on Theatre by John Willett (Methuen) A Choice of Evils by Martin Esslin The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht by John Fuegi Bertolt Brecht: Chaos According To Plan by John Fuegi (Cambridge University Press) Personal memoirs The Brecht Memoir by Eric Bentley (PAJ Publications) Living for Brecht by Ruth Berlau ( Fromm) Brecht As They Knew Him translated by John Peet. or repetitive movement. or the judgement of the circle with just movement. Angela Hurwicz. Create a still picture of this moment. There are different qualities of time in the play – make a list of them: Grusha’s night watching the baby. s/he has just given their last £1 coin to a beggar.” Improvise a scenario that suits this dilemma – like finding a £50 note. narrated version etc. in groups. Caspar Neher.

The Chalk Circle • Discuss the title of each act: what it suggests. a camera. Then each group goes away for five minutes again and is asked to distil their work into the essential idea. What is the feel of each act? Making the play manageable. a microphone. Brecht means theatrical. Some big bits of paper and pens.15am) Leader: Having spent two days working like this and beginning our scrapbook of ideas. Brecht and technology: “On the whole theatre has not been brought up to modern technological standards. One group has the camera. “the bridge”. It wasn’t a straight read-through.g video: using the child’s point of view sound: crying. INTRODUCTION (10. Frank McGuinness came in and we read the play. what the main story point is.” Brecht on teaching: “The world of knowledge takes a crazy turn when teachers themselves are taught to learn. a microphone and speaker. • As a group. e. use chairs. do another one – the mob hanging the judge or attempt the impossible: the baby.30am) Go around the group and introduce yourself. Our first day of rehearsal began with all of us sitting on the floor making a big list of the challenges of the play. TEXT (11. For example. This involves us being confident that we understand the essence of what Brecht was after and then feeling free to translate that into the theatrical vocabulary we are confident we can use. We’ll look at a couple of them.” The day will be spent going through the the National’s approach to the play. national theatre education workpack 28 . • Share with the whole group. something to make music. What do you want to get out of today? How do you usually teach Brecht? Leader’s intro: This workshop is about looking at Brecht in a different way – not trying to apply his theories to this play but looking at the play first and then asking how this particular group of people can bring this story to life in the way he wanted. The Flight To The Northern Mountains 3. A couple of copies of the play. Copies of the Singer’s first speech about Easter Sunday and the Governor. In The Northern Mountains 4. costumes. PLAYING Leader: The room is set up as the rehearsal room was – a few bits of costume. the simplest it can be. inconsistencies in the writing style and discovering theatrical conventions that reveal these. Bruegel’s ‘Dulle Griet’. instruments. a few props.“the baby”. wind noises. complexities. • Split into groups of two or three. a camera. others can use what is in the room. • So as a whole group – write out the titles of each act: (Prologue) 1. The Mighty Child 2. That we trust our basic ethos – exposing the process – is Brechtian enough in itself.Workshop plans – with teachers INSET FOR TEACHERS This is the workshop plan for a day’s workshop with a maximum 25 teachers. • Talk about what the Singer says – “it’s really two plays” – and discuss what that means and the problems it poses for an audience. a camera swirling around. and “number of characters”. one has sound. think about a different theatrical language for each act. If there is time. “making it Brechtian”. devised and led by The Caucasian Chalk Circle Associate Director. after each act we stopped and talked about it. Elizabeth Freestone Resources needed: A collection of props. exciting – Frank McGuinness describes the play as “basically an adventure story”. Each group has ten minutes to come up with an idea for how to cross the bridge. We then spent the rest of the day playing with ideas that might meet these challenges. These included things like: “length”. Most plays and productions today are essentially Brechtian. Filter. you could have a rope on the floor. The Story Of The Judge 5. and each other. This was a big breakthrough in rehearsals – seeking out the differences. breathing making a puppet out of clothes. and celebrating its eclecticism? Leader: Eclectically is how we feel we want to interpret Brecht. drawn from the first few weeks of rehearsal.

authoritative. Keep going through the play in this way. Now think about the Singer. illustrator. One group should take 2006. again starting one by one and then building up the world. 2006 – the war now. or use items or costumes in the room – even use one of your group as a lump of clay. or can he move between them. Monumental. Brecht’s exile. Start with an empty space. put something in the space. and in silence. Keep going into Act 2 – change the space. Can anyone suggest moments where he is in each role? For example. sirens. then maybe begin making sounds. Doubling. Each take one of the three time periods. investigator. How do you use the narration and action simultaneously. Azdak becomes the judge. is he contemporary? How does our interpretation of the play change when he belongs to different worlds? What is the impact of each decision? Use one person as a model and dress them. war now and our view of the second world war. • Split into 3 groups. if not confident with drawing. with each group taking one of the timeframes. take the same piece of text – the Singer’s opening speech about Easter Sunday – and demonstrate the impact of each way of narrating. storyteller. The long ago The ancient. Grusha takes the baby. or a mixture. for example translator. think about how you might dress the Singer – do you keep him in one world. Share with the whole group. Developing this. Afternoon session (2. cinematic. Inevitably you end up showing the basic story of the act by working in this way. national theatre education workpack 29 . decide upon the essential Brecht moment (think about the moment of choice) and explore staging it. 1946 as post-war time. Each group should imagine setting the play in a different timeframe. changing the physical and sonic world for each act. maybe putting (silent) characters in. make banging noises. claustrophobia 4. Epic. model them into a pose and dress them. setting Prologue in his contemporary environment). using whatever props. Feedback to all. For example. Make a list of issues to take into account when exploring that timeframe. split into four groups. Think about how the fact that the Singer belongs in different worlds affects our interpretation of the story. domestic. Each group has to try and fulfil one specific function the Singer has. as shown overleaf. • In same groups. For example. NARRATION / ACTION (3pm) List the roles the Singer takes. or one before the other? Practically. simplifying politics. costumes. 1946 When Brecht was writing it (why he wrote it. the clash of swords. For example. landscape 3. the realm of the untrue. fairytale land. Describe. Grusha hits the Ironshirt. junk might end up sprawled everywhere. Draw a picture of one character from the play and what they might wear. 2006 Our contemporary references. chairs etc are in the room. Messy. and between the three worlds. Draw a picture of one setting and what it might look like. fable.45pm) THE THREE TIMEFRAMES OF THE PLAY (refer to page 18) 1. Decide upon the essential story – a log line. House. and each take a small piece of text from another part of the play and look at staging it. his contemporary setting. rough. chaos 2. shambolic 5. our view of Soviet Georgia. the Prologue. the long ago as parable. One by one. where do you put the Singer? • Using the four methods. people may scream. 3. Give each group an act. another 1946 and the other can choose another time. We all add to it. Draw diagrams. 2. • Build the first act. how exile affected his work. In three groups. fairytale • Separate into five groups. one line that sums up the act: “This is an act about XXX [theme] in which YYY [story]” Feedback to the whole group. Think about the Singer as a bridge between the audience and the story. he’s a translator when Grusha and Simon face each other across the stream.Workshop plans – with teachers 1.

Workshop plans – with teachers DRAW THESE DIAGRAMS ILLUSTRATION Story For ACTION DEMONSTRATION Story With ACTION SINGER INVESTIGATION Story Within SINGER NARRATION Story Then ACTION SINGER SINGER (reveal) ACTION national theatre education workpack 30 .

let’s read the scene with the Governor’s Wife and the dresses. but a picture in action. You can see how you could go through the play and assign characters to each category. Two exercises often used in schools to help make a character choice easily are status games (find a number 1-10) and leading with a specific part of the body. which is why he gives her numerous moments of decision-making in the play. Someone should bang the drum to turn everyone into servants. then unfreeze and finish the scene. He deliberately writes contradictions. a beast of burden. QUESTIONS. The challenge is to find an acting style that allows all to legitimately co-exist in the same play. and freeze it at the moment of choice. What does he mean by this? What moment in the play could this be? Recreate the essence of the picture with a moment in the play – for example. Eventually we build a psychological picture of Grusha’s mental state at the moment of choice. Someone else might say “confused” – ask them to come in and do the same. That’s an easy conclusion.” Look at the picture (see page 20). then fade them down. The Real. Ask the questions – what is going through her mind? How does she feel? Someone might say “frightened” – ask them to come in and take up an image of fear. The Fairytale Characters. He simply wants us to think about her dilemmas as well. FEEDBACK AND FINISH (4. servants are a group. For example. Develop this exercise by running a scene – the Simon and Grusha proposal scene for example. Everyone steps in to play their inner emotional thoughts as above. or sound. and a simple action that they can repeat. Look at Grusha. we thought about the characters in three different strands: The Groups. when the child becomes hers. • Find one prop for a servant and one for a soldier. Use Brecht’s quote about Dulle Griet – “Grusha should be simple and look like Brueghel’s Mad Meg. that she’s very obedient (because she does exactly as the Adjutant asks) – then the character becomes more complicated. Begin with one person taking up a freeze of the moment of choice within the action of the play. But if you find something truthful – for example. With students you might find a picture for each character – not a portrait. Play the scene and focus on the idea of obedience. You could read the Governor’s Wife and find that she’s a monster. and again to turn them into soldiers. The solution is to find an essential truth for each character and then crank up the playfulness or the grotesquery as necessary – but everyone has a basis in truth. • Think about character in more detail. If you just start with character it is very easy to make twodimensional choices. Grusha is fully formed. Brecht is a better writer than just simply making her a monster. fleeing the Ironshirts. You can bring the picture to life by asking everyone playing an emotion to find a word. The clues are in the names: The Fat Prince is a fairytale character.Workshop plans – with teachers CHARACTER AND ACTING (3. • Make a chart and call out some characters that might belong to each group. Stagger-start them going. Now ask the actor playing Grusha to play the next beat of the action with that whirlwind of information in mind.15pm) national theatre education workpack 31 . Think about Grusha’s three big psychological decision moments: to take the child.30pm) In rehearsals. It’s nonsense that Brecht doesn’t want the audience to empathise with her. and when she fights for the child.

Then start. who could be in it. then maybe begin making sounds. the clash of swords. Do this several times and build a number of images that relate to key scenes in the play. what would happen if we take one person away and replace them. and ask other people to join and take up a related image. MOMENTS The room is set up as the National’s rehearsal room was – a few bits of costume. junk might end up sprawled everywhere. The words start random – hero. a few props. Put two images together and speculate on setting. initially static. Each individual has to make an image of the word. what is about to happen. choice. It’s an exercise where everyone imagines they are a waiter with a plate of hot food on their hand. Then freeze.Workshop plans – with students 2 hours. (This is a simple. The next stage of this exercise is to move around the room whilst doing it – simultaneously trying not to bump into other people. the riots. using whatever props. a microphone and speaker. The Chalk Circle Discuss each title – what it suggests. a camera swirling around. something to make music. (This is about working at balancing the space. For example. The Mighty Child 2. Write these down in the form of scene titles on big bits of paper. Share with the whole group. Encourage some of the people not already in the image to build the picture of the scene that happens five minutes later. changing the physical and sonic world for each act. Make a picture for each act. or five years later. You might have made the bridge. Azdak’s train in this way. you could have a rope on the floor. Each group goes away and refines their idea. Stop and look at some of the images and ask what we can read into them. make banging noises. instruments. One by one. others can use what is in the room. what the main story point might be. sirens. and in silence. put something in the space. The Flight To The Northern Mountains 3. something like: GRUSHA TAKES THE BABY or AZDAK DELIVERS HIS JUDGEMENT. Find a starting picture that seems rich. use chairs. until it has built what could be a frozen moment from a bigger story. Ideally. IMAGES Leader gives a quick explanation of the purpose of the workshop and the structure of the session. a microphone. chairs etc are in the room. One group has a video camera. costumes. one has sound. • Everyone (now plateless) walks around the room. create at least one moment for each act of the play. maybe putting (silent) characters in. Take this into freezing on a word rather than a clap. costumes. STORY • As a whole group write out the titles of each act: (Prologue) 1. Some big bits of paper and pens. For example. • Everyone finds a space in the room. what kind of locations might be involved. national theatre education workpack 32 . on their own. Then start again. maximum 30 participants devised and led by The Caucasian Chalk Circle Associate Director with one musician and two actors. Discuss the transition between the two and do a slow motion movement that shows the change. from the play. • Split into groups for each of the play’s key moments. all the time asking questions about where the scene could be. without dropping the plate – ie by keeping the palm of their hand flat at all times whilst contorting themselves into impossible positions. again starting one-by-one and then building up the world. a camera. They have to find ways of taking it around their body. warm-up which encourages concentration and co-ordination). love – and gradually become specific to the play – war. through their legs. wind noises. what’s just happened. people may scream. judgement. All should add to it. filling the gaps). Discuss. In The Northern Mountains 4. a camera. The Story Of The Judge 5. A couple of copies of the play. fear. Eventually you’ll have realised about five key moments in the play. Each group has ten minutes to come up with an idea for their moment. The pace varies. Resources needed: A collection of props. and each other. and character. Inevitably you end up showing the basic story of the act by working in this way. over their head. Keep going through the play in this way. Keep going into Act 2 – change the space. The group are given the instruction to freeze when the leader claps. Start with an empty space.

One person shows the things that have been written down during the session. building in volume and pace and then cutting out altogether when spring comes. and to the scene. PLAY Aim to end the session with a rough run of the play. Grusha and Azdak each have songs. or a few. Part of the National/Filter’s approach has been to make all of the actors create the sound. or shift the focus. This is an exercise about listening to each other. Begin by making the world of Act 1 as a group. in the right order. Everyone should grab something in the room that might make a good dripping sound. or add a sound. Then someone can step in and make a change – take one character out. then make Act 2.Workshop plans – with students MUSIC Not only does the Singer tell the whole story. It might mean starting with one sound. Two volunteers read the scene and the group works together to choreograph the right build and rhythm of dripping that Brecht asks for to complement the scene. This is done in silence. into a moment from the production. All should look at the image and keep tweaking it to make it clear until everyone remembers the moment. It is clear with all the journey and crowd scenes in the play. How does this change the moment? What do the audience now see? QUESTIONS AND FINISH national theatre education workpack 33 . when the snow melts from the roof. adding more. then on to Act 3 and the Lavrenti/Grusha scene and so on until you reach the chalk circle judgement. MEMORY (For groups who have seen the production. then cut to the group who made the Ironshirt moment.) In a circle invite one person to mould another. • Look at the scene with Lavrenti and Grusha. pooling together all our ideas. then cut to the group who devised a moment of Grusha taking the child. there is huge scope for sound.

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