THE YALTA GAME and ELEGY FOR A LADY
by Brian Friel by Arthur Miller.
Stephen Joseph Theatre (McCarthy auditorium) In rep to 10 September 2011.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
TICKETS: 01723 370541.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 July.
Two classy love stories.
Chris Monks has had to drop his Stephen Joseph Theatre’s summer tour round North Yorkshire, because North Yorkshire has largely dropped its funding for the theatre. Instead the double-bill of one-acters stay at home, playing separately or as a double-bill.
And, replacing the new short plays usual in Alan Ayckbourn’s era at the SJT – a way of bringing on new writers – Monks has chosen two plays from existing double-bills by established writers. It’s a classy evening; audiences round rural North Yorkshire are missing out on a fine experience.
The Yalta Game involves observing others in the relaxed Crimean holiday resort of the title, where Anton Chekhov spent much of his last years and wrote two of his greatest plays. It’s one of two short plays by Irish playwright Brian Friel has derived from Chekhov (the other, Afterplay, unites characters from two of the Russian’s dramas) and uses Chekhov’s story Lady with Lapdog to examine the way that idle observation can catch the spectator in what is being seen.
It could be a metaphor for theatre, and a few teasing moments where reality is questioned (does the dog exist or is it a writer’s device?) interrupt confident narrator, and experienced Yalta visitor, Dmitri Gurov, as he’s surprised into involvement with an apparently happily-married lady.
John Elkington’s Dmitri has a coarse edge, until his attraction with Jennifer Rhodes’ subtly-nuanced Anna Sergeyevna grows into an involvement reflected literally here as he’s seen walking back into her life first as a shadow on the wall.
Slighter in length and less ambitious in scope, Arthur Miller’s Elegy for a Lady is part of his Two Way Mirror. Its characters too are surprised by emotional engagement, as a boutique Proprietress helps a male customer choose a present for his younger love, but also question his assumption she is dying.
There’s a beautiful restraint in the playing, as the conversation takes the characters some way beyond the limits of their encounter. The possibilities suggested and the elegiac end where Rhodes’ warm, soft-spoken shop-owner fades into darkness as her customer moves away into the street speak volumes silently.
Dmitri/Man: John Elkington.
Anna/Proprietress: Jennifer Rhodes.
Director: Chris Monks.