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Tug of love and life

THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE. By Bertolt Brecht. Mercury Theatre, Colchester

Written while Bertolt Brecht was in exile in the United States during the Second World War, The Caucasian Chalk Circle is an epic parable that argues that the resources of the world should go to those who are most productive. Based on an ancient Chinese story - echoed in the biblical judgment of Solomon - the play begins with a governor's wife abandoning her baby and Grusha, a peasant, looking after it. When the biological mother wants the child back, a judge, Azdak, places it in a chalk circle and asks the two women to do a tug of war for it. Because she doesn't want to harm the child, Grusha lets go first - and Azdak gives it to her.

Director Sue Lefton says that the play is relevant to a society, like ours, "where a lot of people have children without knowing why. The play's message is a humanitarian one: if you are the one that is right for the child, the child belongs to you." The play raises issues about the relationship between the biological mother and the adoptive one. "It's all about spending time with your child." As Grusha says: "He's used to me and he knows me.'"

On another level, the play is "an allegory of Marxist history". The child represents the world, the governor's wife the ruling class "which legally owns the world but does not care for it", Grusha the working class "who look after the world and give it sustenance", and Azdak "the intellectuals of the Communist Party who transfer the world to its rightful claimants". At the end, as Azdak leaves the stage and "the old regime is restored, this can be seen as Brecht's disappointment at the way the Russian Revolution had been hijacked by Stalin". The play is a history lesson as well as a forum for a debate about parenting issues.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle runs until June 2. Tickets tel: 01206 573948. Pre-show workshops take place before most performances.Details tel: 01206 573948

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