The Caucasian Chalk Circle

Written by Bertolt Brecht (Translated by Eric Bentley)

Thurs 22nd November - Sat 24th November & Tues 27th November - Sat 1st December 2001

Directed by David Penrose

Brecht's masterpiece tells an epic story. Two years of civil war turn the lives of many upside down. Grusha, the kitchen skivvy and Azdak, the village clerk make their own journeys through the chaos - until they finally meet in a makeshift courtroom.
Who takes care of the child abandoned by his mother?
Who will take the risk when he has a price on his head?
Grusha will...
Azdak may let her.

AuthorBertolt Brecht

Eugen Bertolt Friedrich Brecht (1898 - 1956)

Brecht was a poet, playwright, and theatre director. Born in Augsburg, Germany, he studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Munich before becoming a medical orderly in a German military hospital during the First World War. This experience reinforced his hatred of war and influenced his support for the failed Socialist revolution in 1919. After the war Brecht returned to university but became more interested in literature - his first play to be produced was Baal in 1922.

Together with Kurt Weill he later wrote The Threepenny Opera (based on The Beggar's Opera). Brecht added his own lyrics which illustrated his growing belief in Marxism. He also attempted to develop a new approach to the the theatre. He tried to persuade his audiences to see the stage as a stage, actors as actors and not to overlook the traditional make-believe of the theatre. Brecht required detachment, not passion, from the observing audience. The purpose of the play was to awaken the spectators' minds so that he could communicate his version of the truth.

Brecht's plays reflected a Marxist interpretation of society and when Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933 he was forced to flee from Germany - living in Denmark, Sweden and the Soviet Union and finally the USA. While living in exile he wrote anti-Nazi plays such as 'The Roundheads and the Peakheads' and 'Fear and Misery of the Third Reich'. This was later followed by 'Galileo', 'Mother Courage', 'The Good Man of Szechuan', 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' and the 'Caucasian Chalk Circle'.

In 1947 Brecht was named in the House of Un-American Activities Committee investigation. He denied being a member of the American Communist Party but soon after left the USA for East Germany. In 1949 Brecht founded the Berliner Ensemble (which became the country's most famous theatre company) with his wife and long-time collaborator, the actress Helene Weigel.

TranslatorEric Bentley

Eric Bentley (b 1916)

Eric Bentley was born in Bolton, Lancashire and is a renowned critic, playwright, editor and translator. He became an American citizen in 1948, and currently lives in New York City. His critical works include 'Theatre of War', 'Brecht Commentaries', and 'Thinking about the Playwright'.

PlayThe Caucasian Chalk Circle

'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' (German: Der Kaukasische Kreidekreis) is a parable about a peasant girl who steals a baby but becomes a better mother than its natural parents. Using the device of a "play within a play", 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' was written in 1944 while Brecht was living in the United States. It was translated into English by Brecht's friend and admirer Eric Bentley and its world premiere was a student production at Carleton College, Minnesota, in 1948. Its first professional production was at the Hedgerow Theatre, Philadelphia, directed by Bentley. Its German premiere was in 1954 at the Theatre am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin. 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' is now considered one of Brecht's most important plays. The play is a reworking of Brecht's earlier short story, 'Der Augsburger Kreidekreis', and both derive from the 14th-century Chinese play 'Circle of Chalk' by Li Xingdao, however, Brecht made a crucial change from the Chinese play which was his source. In it, it is the child's birth mother who lets go and wins custody of the child.

The Bench Production

The Caucasian Chalk Circle poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.

Below is an alphabetical list of the 15 actors who worked on this production. Each individual actor played many of the 70 character parts within the play.


Sharman CallamPaul DaviesRuth Murfitt
Jack ClausenSue DawesVaughn Price
Ingrid CorriganSam EmeryRuth Prior
Peter CorriganRobin HallMark Wakeman
Zoë CorriganDavid HillAlan Welton


Director David Penrose
Stage Manager Paul Millington
Properties Manager Derek Callam
Costume Design Sue Dawes
Megan Utley
Masks Sue Dawes
Music Composers Jack Clausen
Vaughn Price
Alice Corrigan
Set Design David Penrose
Lighting Design Jacquie Penrose
Lighting Operator Andrew Caple
Poster Design Pete Woodward
Photographs Tim Taylor
Programme Editor Derek Callam
Front of House Tim Taylor

Director's Notes

Brecht started to write 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' during World War II. He was a man in exile from his own country, having left Hitler's Germany for his own good in 1933. His young family was still scattered across the neutral countries of Europe. Brecht could not know whether he would see all of his children again. After the war was over Brecht revised the play. In 1954, when his theatre company, the Berliner Ensemble, was eventually given its own theatre in East Berlin, 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' was one of the first plays staged there, out of a huge suitcase of his own plays that he had never seen performed.

The play is about the impact of war on a poor country. It asks what kind of wisdom is needed when the war is over and the farmsteads of remote communities have been destroyed by a conflict not of their making. How do ordinary people make sense out of a chaos they did not invite? How do people stay true to their humanity when they have no resources left? At the time Brecht wrote the play, and ever since, there has always been somewhere in the world where these questions are being asked.

When two farming communities meet to decide how best to put things together again after the war, Brecht makes what otherwise might have been dry politics into something human and vivid by the simple staging of another play within the play that starts. The villagers return to their ravaged valleys and re-enact an ancient story, The Legend of the Chalk Circle. It puts them back in touch with more timeless values: the natural justice of a woman's love for a child, the love of family and friends for a place shared for centuries, and the common humanity of individuals faced with hardship, at least trying to resist the temptation to merely exploit each other to survive.

I do love 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle'. I'm a drama teacher at Havant College and have already made two productions of this marvellous play with students. It has so much action and so many parts to play that it has always been a favourite with schools and youth theatre groups - and quite rightly too. But it has to be said that the play has been somewhat high-jacked by young actors. It is rare to see it performed by a company like ours - with fifteen actors from sixteen to sixty. The Bench has developed its theatrical skills over the years by working on many kinds of play. 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' allows us to bring all that experience to bear on a rich theatrical masterpiece, using imaginative invention, masks and music, vocal and physical acting skills to populate an epic tale with over fifty characters. The last scene alone is worth the ticket money!

David Penrose


The NewsNeil Pugmire

Play director's expertise shines through

Two rival groups try to rebuild their poverty-stricken central Asian country after the ravages of war. Sound familiar? That's the plot of Bertolt Brecht's classic, which recent events have made even more pertinent. In his play, Georgian farmers settle their differences and remind themselves of the values of dignity and humanity by staging another play. Would that real life was as simple!

This staple of school and college production is in safe hands with Havant's experienced Bench Theatre Company. Director David Penrose has staged the play twice before. It shows in his expert handling of more than 70 characters, umpteen props and dozens of costume changes. He finds solutions to potentially tricky problems of staging scenes next to a glacier, on a creaky bridge and in an attic bedroom.

Each of the ensemble cast of 15 switches effortlessly from character to character, bringing real depth to even the minutest of cameo parts. Sam Emery's singing voice impressed, as did Ingrid Corrigan as the heroine's mother-in-law and Ruth Prior as a granny.

The original music works well, comic moments are rarely missed, and the pace hardly slackens. From tomorrow until Saturday.

The News, 23rd November 2001

Production Photographs