The Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group (EGTG) manifested the UK premiere of Walt McGough‘s Chalk this November. If any evidence of the groups’ continued vigour after 69 years in business was needed, then this fine production more than provided.
A very neat Science Fiction tale, this two-hander pitches Cora (Rosella Elphinstone) against her mother Maggie (Esther Gilvray). An apocalypse has descended upon Planet Earth, and as far as Maggie knows, she is the last human standing. Her only protection against the disembodied creatures killing and possessing the populace? A Chalk Circle.
Chalk as a ‘demon’ deterrent is just one piece of advice contained within a new-age mystical bible belonging to her only child, Cora. The same Cora has returned to their shelter after leaving the circle in search of provisions, only she refuses to cross the chalk line on the ground.
Aerialist and actor Elphinstone proved a clever choice for the ‘alienated’ offspring, bringing a lithe physicality and tetchy youthfulness to the role. Gilvray played the last woman on the planet with a wry, and heartfelt honesty, a natural foil and barb to her youthful antagonist. The spiky chemistry they enjoyed was absolutely critical of course, the battling forces of deep love and inter-generational (inter-galactic) friction, the driving force of the play.
Their journey into their competing memories of the past, and contemplations on the present offer a blend of menace, melodrama, and dark comedy. McGrough threads his strands well, continually building anticipation for an inevitable finale. There’s an undeniable sense of threat, and a continual worry that Maggie’s self-possession will crack with fatal consequences. Generation and species gap quips and confusions are sprinkled about judiciously however, relieving the sense of oppression, and making the story far more human.
The play itself is tightly plotted, the pair’s conversation unencumbered with excessive exposition. This is a small, personal tale happening whilst the fate of the world is left outside the circle, and the four walls it lies within. However, Director Hannah Bradley Croall injected motion into proceedings by offering the aerally adept Ephinstone a scaffold upon which to perform. This vertical dimension to matters etches Cora’s alienation from her mother without adding a single word. If anything, EGTG’s production of Chalk might have been just a little too pacey at times, thus losing the power of the space between words.
Of course, the play’s inescapable metaphor is writ large across proceedings also. Even without intergalactic intervention, parents and their children have been making strangers of each other since Adam was a little boy. McCough is hopeful however, that communications can be restored with a little trauma (and world catastrophe).
Key to McGough’s ultimately satisfactory plotting, is his refusal to inflict unjustifiable stupidity or genius upon the characters. There are rules, even if the audience doesn’t need to know them, governing the aliens’ abilities and ambitions. The mechanism by which the entrapped mother may hope to reclaim her daughter is completely logical, within the confines of Chalk.
The finale, played with conviction by Gilvray and Elphinstone, was thus completely satisfactory. Those familiar with the fantastical end of the theatrical canon will be aware how rare such conclusions are!
Tense, fun, and clever, EGTG’s production of Chalk was more than a little out of this world.
Chalk is a production of The Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group.