Bravo, National Theatre! Bravo, CAST Theatre! What a triumph this colossal collaboration has turned out to be. This latest Public Arts Production brings us an epic extravaganza that’s enthralling, exhilarating and bristling with vibrant, creative excellence all round.

Part of The National Theatre’s nationwide initiative is “to create extraordinary acts of theatre and community” and that’s certainly what they’ve done. In a unique creation, Bertolt Brecht’s play The Caucasian Chalk Circle has been freely adapted by revered playwright Chris Bush with original music by Ruth Chan, played by superb musicians, and further embellished with elegant, ingenious set designs, clever props and breathtaking costumes from Hannah Sibai, plus beautiful, artistic lighting from Katherine Williams. With a huge, energetic, multi-role cast to boot, the resulting Brecht-unBrecht musical drama is an astounding spectacle.

Through flamboyant, creative expertise and genius inspiration, swathes of local talents dovetail with professionals to create a highly polished, top quality entertainment. Into the bargain, assembling a greater diversity of different human beings on any stage would be nigh on impossible! As the cheers of the audience testify, odd Acorn Antiques moments of delivery and timing hardly matter since the gripping story, visual splendour, varied, engaging music and stage-wide, choreographed movement bring constant colour, dazzle and interest.

The story of The Doncastrian Chalk Circle follows the main story in the original play, written in the US in 1943 when Brecht was in exile from Hitler’s Germany. It tells of selfless Grusha, a poor maid who sacrifices all to save the Queen’s abandoned baby son when a bloody uprising against the tyrannical rulers causes the Queen to flee, clutching her favourite gowns – but forgetting her child. Narration, song and other elements of the original also feature – though not quite in the same way! We witness justice at work, of course, in deciding whose the child should be after the war is over. Should the judge give him to the selfish birth mother who abandoned him or to his adopted mother? Yanking little Michael out of a chalk circle, drawn on the ground, is the way to decide, but who will yank hardest in a tug o’ war that risks hurting the child?

When it comes to mood and atmosphere, though, this entertainment is far from Brechtian. Brecht liked to “alienate” his audience, to keep them distanced so they might judge the goings-on with cool, rational thought. Our modern version plays for the audience’s emotional rather than intellectual involvement in the characters’ lives, and it adopts modern-day styles of music, dance, lighting, language and delivery, petal. The poignancy of the serious drama remains strong but there’s a big emphasis on stage-wide spectacle and comedy, especially of the camp variety. In spite of icy mountains, ingeniously represented by the jagged parting of the set’s handsome, multi-purpose wooden slats, there’s a much warmer, more sentimental glow all round.

Professionals take the main acting/singing roles, Daisy Ann Fletcher engaging admirably as courageous, loving Grusha and Beth Hinto-Lever as her soldier fiance. Benjamin Armstrong is highly pleasing both as Kazbeki, and as Jussup, comotose as he gets wed, only to miraculously revive once married. Patrick Doyle gets extra laughs as the officiating Monk. Strutting big, bold, sparkly and as camp as a Rocky Horror David Bowie, John Partridge is a striking, though unexpected, sensation as Judge Azdak, while, integrating neatly into the action, come top-class, top-brass members of Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and All That Jazz, and local Drag Queen Miss Smoochie. Up in the circle, MD Josh Sood and five other fine musicians cover the wide-ranging score with several instruments a-piece, Sood’s bold onscreen conducting gestures ensuring the massed performers keep amazingly together.

An admirable, highly enjoyable entertainment with a happy, uplifting ending to boot, that would adapt well to other locations.

Eileen Caiger Gray