Standing in the middle of a Caucasian chalk circle, two women claim a boy to be their own offspring and are firmly gripping each of the boy’s hands as a judge looks on .
Actors of the Viet Nam Youth Theatre performed this excerpt from Caucasian Chalk Circle, the renowned work of the late German modernist playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), at a recent press conference on the cultural co-operation project between the theatre and Goethe Institute in the capital city.
Caucasian Chalk Circle will be performed for the first time at the Viet Nam Youth Theatre under this project. The excerpt at the press conference features a trial over the right to keep the child, and the ending was not shown.
The play narrates the story of a servant who sacrifices her love for a soldier to rescue a baby boy, and in the process, she becomes a better mother to the boy than his real parents, who are wealthy.
Truong Nhuan, the theatre director, nurtured the project after taking part in a festival in Germany last year. He told Goethe Institute of his desire to stage a German play in Viet Nam for Vietnamese audiences.
Goethe Institute approved the proposal, and Caucasian Chalk Circle was chosen to introduce a new artistic style for Vietnamese theatre lovers.
In the past, Russian theatre director Sergeievich Stanislavsky’s reality plays influenced Vietnamese theatre, and Brecht’s abstract work was placed on the back burner.
“It is a chance for our regular young audiences to experience a masterpiece which criticises selfishness and teaches confidence,” said Nhuan.
“Staging these works will also be a good chance for our actors to get closer to the world contemporary stage.”
Freelance German director Dominik Gunther was invited to Viet Nam to work with the Viet Nam Youth Theatre. He first came to Ha Noi in March to cast roles for the play and spent a month on his second trip back to Viet Nam to set up the stage work.
This is the first time Gunther has set up Caucasian Chalk Circle.
The director, who is following the principle of setting up a stage for a specific play only once, said he had been pouring all of his creativity into the production of this play for Ha Noi audiences.
As a freelancer in Germany since 2005, Gunther has directed a number of theatre projects with young people. This is one of the reasons that brought him to the Viet Nam Youth Theatre.
“The artists here are professional and they are very open to working with me. At the beginning, the language barrier made this a bit difficult, but this is not important because we can use body language on the stage,” said Gunther.
The director has only praises for his set designer, Doan Bang, who used a modern-style stage design, including props which suddenly appear on the stage during the performance without any apparent movement.
“All different sectors behind the stage are very important. Bang and I work effectively. I’m happy to work with him,” Gunther quipped.
In the production for Ha Noi audiences, the director cut off the part on the origin of World War II because it was no longer suitable.
“I think Vietnamese are no longer interested in war. In the bloodiest of times, people reveal their animal instincts,” Gunther noted.
After watching the play last Wednesday, veteran stage director and People’s Artist Pham Thi Thanh said she was completely charmed by the performance.
“The play is quite physical and intellectual, in keeping with Bertolt Brecht’s style. It does not address the audience directly, but it makes them think a lot. Costumes and props are abstract but quite realistic,” Thanh noted.
“I like the play very much. The director brings the characters closer to contemporary life. The characters are diversified, making the play vivid,” she added.
Under the project, the play was shown thrice for free on September, then it will be included in the Viet Nam Youth Theatre’s repertoire and be staged on every last Sunday of the month.
“Right from the beginning, we believed in the success of this kind of co-operation because it is supported by Nhuan and all theatre members. The artists have been quite enthusiastic and have expressed their full creativity,” said Almuth Meyer Zollitsch, the institute’s director.
Co-operation with the Goethe Institute is suitable to the theatre’s development plan to set up stage masterpieces. In recent years, the plays that were produced included Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Athur Miler’s All My Sons.
“We acknowledge that setting up stage masterpieces is a way to make the Vietnamese contemporary stage popular in the world,” said Nhuan.