by William Boyd based on two stories by Anton Chekhov.
Hampstead Theatre Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 6 April 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed 2.30pm & Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 6 April 3pm (+Touch Tour 1.30pm).
Captioned 2 April.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 January.
Skilful Chekhov twinning.
For his first play novelist William Boyd interleaves two stories by Anton Chekhov, master of fiction on page and stage, giving coexistence to the characters of A Visit to Friends and My Life. It’s probably a tribute to Nina Raine’s production, and Lizzie Clachan’s design, a summer-house surrounded by grass and trees, that it’s never overly obvious two groups of people are circling around each other, each group’s quietly intense relationships only lightly crossing at meetings with the other.
Longing could also bring two Chekhov plays to mind. The trio of women visited by childhood friend Kolia, bringing the legal expertise they hope will save their estate, recall the three Prozorov sisters – there’s hopeless love here too – while the financially feckless Sergei part-echoes Andrei Prozorov. Sergei, at least, is spared an unhappy marriage. That goes to Misail, from My Life. This middle-class idealist wants to be a manual labourer, but is so muddled he ends-up marrying the vulgar daughter of the area’s richest bourgeois. John Session plays this father-in-law with such relish you find yourself counting off the years to 1917, his comeuppance date with destiny.
Catrin Stewart’s Kleopatra takes Three Sisters’s Natasha at her worst to further extremes, while William Postlethwaite’s Misail shows a tactful enthusiasm in a type more recognisable to Chekhov’s early readers than to modern Western society. Tom Georgeson is his opposite, an independent workman who knows how to wrap politeness in defiance.
Despite all this skill, through the first act old-style Chekhov production longeurs seem to threaten. It’s after the interval, as the women see their estate go, and the unsuitable betrothal takes place that the evening takes its grip. Realism shades towards stylisation in moments of James Farncombe’s atmospheric lighting, while the conversation between the mutually sympathetic Varia (a doctor, like Chekhov, but no happier in love than her Cherry Orchard namesake) and Kolia is handled with a firm delicacy and pin-point emotion by Tamsin Greig and Iain Glen.
It prepares for the moment when stylisation takes over completely, their apparent conversation resolving into separation. By when, Longings’ narrative originals have become entirely dramatic.
Varia: Tamsin Greig.
Tania: Natasha Little.
Radish: Tom Georgeson.
Misail: William Postlethwaite.
Olga/Mrs Luganovitch: Mary Roscoe.
Kolia: Iain Glen.
Natasha: Eve Ponsonby.
Sergei: Alan Cox.
Dolzikhov: John Sessions.
Kleopatra: Catrin Stewart.
Director: Nina Raine.
Designer: Lizzie Clachan.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Composer: Patrick Neil Doyle.
Choreographer: Jane Gibson.
Associate director: Hannah Bannister.