Young Chekhov – Review

The Seagull. Images Johan Persson.
The Seagull. Images Johan Persson.

Chichester’s Festival 2015 season ends in spectacular style by presenting three plays by Young Chekhov by way of David Hare.

And, for those who relish a whole six-plus hours of vodka and self-loathing, the theatre is holding another two trilogy days. Are you up for it?

Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull are presented by one company of 23 actors with most appearing in two productions.

It’s a huge undertaking and one which starts on a high, wobbles a bit in the middle and redeems itself at the end but, taken as a whole, is a tremendous success and something of a surprise. Who knew Chekhov, young or otherwise, was so funny?

James McArdle in Platonov Chichester Festival Theatre

Throughout all three plays there are underlying themes of unhappiness, bitterness, boredom and unfulfilled ambitions. But each are peppered with witty one-liners (yes, even the deeply depressing Ivanov), sexual tensions and passion.

Platonov, which was arguably the audience’s favourite, opened Saturday’s Press Day trilogy – at the ungodly hour of 10.30am – and fizzes with humour and fine performances. At times it almost plays like a Victorian farce.

James McArdle is a sensation as the disillusioned teacher and provincial Don Juan of the title who wreaks havoc in 19th century Russia.

He turns in a masterly and endearing performance that has most of the audience falling for his disreputable charm.

We start off hearing how this reprobate is the life and soul of any party, a thinker and radical, misogynist and a wastrel.

But his arrival at a gathering hosted by widow, Anna Petrovna, sees four women fall for this lusty ne’er-do-well.

Then, like a cheeky little boy lost, he throws himself on the mercy of the audience, to try and explain his rampant behaviour.

Jonathan Kent’s lively direction has theatre-goers being taken into the confidence of characters and is a running theme through all three plays. There were times when it was tempting to answer the impassioned rhetoric.

But this loveable rogue enchants us. We’re entertained as he leads a merry dance with the sexy Anna (Nina Sosanya), his devoted wife, Sasha (Jade Williams), a former paramour (and now married) Sofya (Olivia Vinall) and even a frumpy scientist, Maria, he nick-names “bed bug”.

Owing money appears to be a lifestyle choice for most with a couple of real pantomime villains demanding their cash with menaces.

Chief among them is the wonderfully spoken David Verrey (every word clearly enunciated, unlike some younger cast members) as arch capitalist Shcherbuk.

Jonathan Coy blusters expertly, Nicholas Day overdoes the drunk act and Des McAleer menaces – but it’s all such fun.

Ivanov

Ivanov takes us into familiar Chekhovian territory. At times it’s a nasty, anti-Semitic, hatred-fuelled story filled with ugly characters.

His wife is dying, his estate floundering, and our protagonist is besotted with a young girl – when he’s not moaning about a headache.

Sam West’s tortured and deeply depressed Ivanov is a lost soul but it’s impossible to feel any sympathy for him or anyone else.

We’re saved by Peter Egan’s loud, boozy, cynical and eccentric Count Shabyelski who roars through the story dispensing insults and vicious barbs.

But the rest of the ensemble aren’t a bundle of laughs. This group are buried alive in the Russian countryside with nothing to entertain them other than Brian Pettifer’s incessant nonsense about Bridge hands. God they’re so bored.

The Seagull sees the floor given to Anna Chancellor as monstrous, selfish and vain actress Irina Arkadina who must surely rate as one of the world’s worst mothers.

Irina sniggers at her son’s efforts to become a novelist, playwright and theatre director, belittling and humiliating him in front of friends. No wonder he tries to commit suicide.

She prowls around the stage, arms theatrically expansive, and expects others to dance attendance.

The hard-working Vinall is back as fragile aspiring actress Nina who falls on hard times while Adrian Lukis is underused as a doctor.

Sam West plays Irina’s lover who is torn between the two actresses while it is Joshua James, as the older woman’s son, who takes on the role of suffering love-sick poet.

All three plays give us characters wracked with anger, frustration, and lethargy with only a merry-go-round of affairs, gossip and bitching to keep them going until tragedy strikes (be prepared for sudden gunfire).

But Jonathan Kent has pulled off yet another triumph with three lively and engaging productions.

Young Chekhov runs at Chichester Festival Theatre until November 14. Trilogy Days are only on October 31 and November 14. Check with the theatre’s website cft.org.uk for the remaining performance schedule.

Review Rating
  • Platonov (5)
  • Ivanov (4)
  • The Seagull (4)
4.3

Summary

David Hare and Jonathan Kent have pulled off another triumph with three lively and engaging productions of Chekhov’s Platonov, Ivanov & The Seagull.

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