A PROVINCIAL LIFE
by Peter Gill based on a story by Anton Chekhov.
Sherman Cymru Senghennydd Road CF24 4YE To 17 March 2012.
Audio-described 15 March (+ Touch Tour).
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 029 2064 6900.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 March.
Staging rather than performances stands out.
A dynamic young company, National Theatre Wales is undertaking one of its more conventional projects in asking Cardiff-born director Peter Gill to revive his 1966 Chekhov adaptation. As a playwright, Gill’s work has repeatedly looked back to South Wales; adapting a story that examines the sense of being at the edge of things fits with his original scripts.
Small-cast scenes belie the overall large scale, something hard to achieve outside a major theatre company, even with a (presumably non-paid) Ensemble eking out the considerable cast of speaking characters.
Clearly it wasn’t only Chekhov’s three Prozorov sisters, in the play to which they gave their collective name, who found the provinces dull. In My Life – The Story of a Provincial young Misail tries internal exile, escaping an unsympathetic father (Clive Merrison, rarely seen but impressively forbidding in straight-backed, tight-combed, silver-haired austerity) in that solution to the feeling of superfluity among late 19th-century middle-class Russians, manual labour.
From there to amateur theatricals, with women and with friends, Misail remains a detached figure, never comfortable in the small society around. Acted amid the tall, featureless wood-panels of Alison Chitty’s design, Gill’s production ups the unease, creating a cold atmosphere by emphasising the structure of short scenes through having cast members set the furniture, right from the opening where Misail, standing alone against the rear wall, simply walks into the room being placed around him – in, rather than of, the place.
Terry Davies’ score ensures scene changes maintain atmosphere and there’s a striking end to Act One as scene-shifting and music suddenly stop, to a stark change in Paul Pyant’s lighting; as if an arbitrary break is suspending routines in an unchanging society.
The production could be very impressive, but its staging is too often compromised by the acting, from Misail out – especially among many of the younger actors. It’s strange with so scrupulous a director as Gill. But several characters don’t seem to be listening to others, or give much sense of thought when not actually speaking. Misail particularly often looks absently ahead with generalised confusion. A shame; the production around deserves better.
Anyuta Ivanova lagovo: Kezia Burrows.
Maria Victorovna Dolzhikova: Alex Clatworthy.
Rrokofy: Richard Corgan.
Madame Azhogina: Helen Griffin.
Boris Ivanov Blagovo: Lee Haven-Jones.
Victor Ivanov Dolzhikov: Mark Lewis.
Cleopatra Alexandrovna Poloznev: Sara Lloyd-Gregory.
Ivan Mikhailovich Cheprakov: Jon-Paul Macleod,
Workman: Liam Mansfield.
Alexandr Pavlovich Poloznev: Clive Merrison.
Old Man/Governor of the Province: Kenneth Price.
Misail Alexandrovich Poloznev: Nicholas Shaw.
Andrey Ivanov: William Thomas.
Karpovna/Madame Mufke: Menna Trussler.
Ensemble: John Atkinson, Luke Bridgeman, Abigail Fitzgerald, Heledd Gwynn, Kristian Jenkins, Jan Jones, Ryan Nolan, Clare Parry Jones, Ian Phillips, John Redpath, Liane Walters, John Williams.
Director: Peter Gill.
Designer: Alison Chitty.
Lighting: Paul Pyant.
Sound: Mike Beer.
Composer: Terry Davies.
Assistant director: Julia Thomas.
Assistant designer: Louise Whitemore.