by Ivan Turgenev adapted by Brian Friel.

Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 16 October 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & 7, 13 Oct 2pm.
Audio-described 8 Oct, 9 Oct 2pm.
BSL Signed 13 Oct 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.

TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review Mark Courtice 30 September.

A ively Month.
Apparently Turgenev lived in a ménage à trois for 40 years with Pauline and Louis Viardot. That he knew the agony of the choice that Louis made is clear from the raw power of the scene in this play when Arkady offers the same to his friend Michel. This is typical of Tugenev’s truthful, bleakly funny, and forgiving story of human frailty.

The month here is one of infidelity and strain as Natalya falls for her son’s tutor, betraying both husband and long-term lover. Around her, a community of friends, servants, and hangers-on fall in and out of love too.

Written 50 years before Chekov’s more languid comedies, but often seen as their precursor, the play’s prevailing tone (re-enforced by Brian Friel’s dynamic adaptation) is of activity and energy. This is a world of farmers installing threshing machines and doctors doing their rounds, not leisured aristocrats.

This is reflected in the excellent performances, which skate the edge of caricature but, with the exception of Teddy Kempner’s “comedy” German tutor, avoid falling into it. Natalia’s passion drives her to career round the garden, even hugging trees in an ecstasy of guilt and desire – Janie Dee’s performance is a powerhouse at the heart of the production. When Kenneth Cranham’s doctor drops the joviality and feeble jokes to reveal the angry man beneath, he vibrates with rage. Even Michael Feast’s coolly elegant lover roars with real frustration and loss in the face of betrayal.

Jonathan Kent’s production is closely observed, often funny and consistently engaging. There’s a disjointed physicality; when people hug there is an awkward gap between them. Intimate chats are held between people sitting at right angles. When Natalya finally embraces tutor Belyayev they trip and stagger – this pair don’t fit comfortably together.

The setting is conventional clapboard Russian country house, with most of Chichester’s large stage given over to lawn. There is a kitchen garden for the servants to flirt in over the beetroot. Canopied over stage and auditorium are tree branches and summer leaves. The setting may be calm and country; it’s the people who spark it up.

Arkady Sergeyevich Islayev: Jonathan Coy.
Doctor Shpigelsky: Kenneth Cranham.
Natalya Petrovna: Janie Dee.
Katya: Laura Elphinstone.
Michel Aleksandrovich Rakitin: Michael Feast.
Vera Aleksandrovna: Phoebe Fox.
Afanasy Ivanovich Bolshintsov: Tony Haygarth.
Herr: Schaaf: Teddy Kempner.
Aleksey Nikolayevich Belyayev: James McArdle.
Anna Semyonavna Islayeva: Joanna McCallum.
Lizaveta Bogdanovna: Carolyn Pickles.
Matvey: Jem Wall.

Director: Jonathan Kent.
Designer: Paul Brown.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Gregory Clarke.

2010-10-04 17:02:26

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