YOUNG CHEKHOV: The Birth of a Genius
Platonov, Ivanov, The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
in versions by David Hare from literal translations by Helen Rappaport (Platonov; The Seagull) and Alex Wilbraham ((Ivanov).
Chichester Festival Theatre Oaklands Park PO19 6AP To 14 November 2015.
Platonov 10.30am 31 Oct, 14 Nov.
2.30pm 22 Oct.
7.30pm 24, 27, 29 Oct, 4, 6, 9 Nov
2.30pm 28 Oct.
3pm 31 Oct, 14 Nov 3pm.
7.30pm 23 Oct, 2, 3, 7, 12 Nov.
2.30pm 24 Oct, 4, 7 Nov.
7.30pm 21, 22, 28, 30, 31 Oct, 5, 10, 11, 13, 14 Nov.
Runs: 2hr 45min (Platonov) 2hr 30min (Ivanov, The Seagull) One interval.
TICKETS: 01243 781312.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 October.
A vast survey of Chekhov and his Russia.
Chichester Festival Theatre’s 2015 summer season ends with a flare, a suitable reflection of the flair Artistic Director Jonathan Church has long shown for programming intriguing combinations of plays. Here he draws on director Jonathan Kent’s work at London’s Almeida Theatre operation over the years, resulting in a very rare chance if not precisely to analyse how Anton Chekhov’s final, mature plays – beginning with The Seagull, which is this threesome’s culmination – emerged from his early attempts at full-length plays, than to do a ‘before and after’ comparison with two earlier, very different works.
David Hare’s suave, witty English versions flow smoothly; not an easy matter with the earliest play (pronounced ‘Plat-oh-nov’), originally six hours of script without a title. But with a gun. All three of these plays contain a gun, making Chekhov’s oft-quoted apothegm that a gun produced in act one must be fired in act three more a practical working guide than might be thought the case with this author. In Platonov a surly servant type tries to fulfil a contract killing against the title character, while the other two plays both end with a pistol-shot suicide.
A sense of the development in his dramaturgy might be summed-up in the context of these self-killings. Ivanov is simply tired of being Ivanov, the kind of purposeless, pointless ‘superfluous man’ late19th-century Russia (and certainly its literature) produced in abundance. Platonov is a teacher, though there’s little evidence of people to teach, let alone of the job being done’ and feels much the same.
In Seagull, Konstantin’s death has a much more specific environment; his sense of failure to measure up to his actress-mother or to gain Nina’s love, or even to feel he can write as well as popular novelist Trigorin – who carries his own sense of failure despite being idolised by both women.
Konstantin can hurl scorn at Arkadina, his mother and old-school actor; “Every play you appear in is exactly the same, superficial, frivolous and without the slightest intellectual significance,” while there’s a personal fury in her abuse of his experimental drama as, “A meaningless jumble of adolescent, pseudo-intellectual poppycock,” when he insists, “The theatre of the future is the theatre of ideas.”
Those quotes, however, while they make the points Chekhov’s characters express, aren’t from Hare’s script, but from Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, where an intense young playwright invades the home of leading actor Garry Essendine. Their argument refers to Chekhov and Coward’s lines might have been taken from the play.
The only mature Chekhov without a firearm is Cherry Orchard – though it does have a sinister Passer-By on the family Estate, and an ambiguous ‘breaking string’ sound heard twice, with ominous impact. For the family and the estate are eventually parted on financial grounds, as happens in Platonov. Yet whereas, by his final play, Chekhov weaves a series of human relationships and psychological shortcomings around the situation, here it’s a mere matter of wealth wasted and drunk away.
Technically, Jonathan Kent’s production are triumphant, Tom Pye’s essential set merging interiors and exteriors with few defining walls, floor-surfaces being the main indicator of layout. Mark Henderson’s lighting never allows us to ignore the trees around, in Platonov especially, where substantial amounts of backlighting place the characters as parts of the scenery, blown about by their desires and, more usually, laziness, like leaves within the vast space of Russia. The impression is dark and cold.
So it remains in Ivanov, Kent’s direction throughout the three plays allowing for a lack of order and defined relationships in the characters’ moves and ways of speaking. The early reported impact of Konstantin Stanislavski’s Chekhov productions, that they were like life rather than something on the stage, is recaptured.
In Seagull the cast is suddenly up against a stronger script, and the possibility of audiences having seen other productions. The style holds, with deliberately off-centre staging, and at the end, a second door into the room where Konstantin has barricaded himself.
Mostly, the style works very well, and there’s a company feel to the apparently informal staging, which keeps the scene ever-busy, including characters making their way over a perilous bridge, or sloshing through water. And, as memorable moments arise haphazardly in lives, the productions surprise with sudden moments among the characters. Nina Sosanya, keeping a formal decorum even as her character gives way to drinking, David Verrey’s Shcherbuk for whom it’s nothing to turn serious over a contract killing, Brian Pettifer’s Kosykh sending everyone around into hilarious head-banging frustration as he yet again obsesses about the outcome of a card game.
These, rather than the ‘central’ performances, stand-out, as is quite right. It’s only in the last act of all that things grow problematic. After Anna Chancellor’s showily stagy Arkadina has finally left the action, Seagull’s substantial re-meeting of Nina with Konstantin, performed over the years by many fine actors, really needs more depth than is provided.
But it will do, and there is a lot to appreciate especially when it’s possible to see all three of these plays. In choosing one, many may take the chance to catch Seagull, and it has many positive points, not least the considered Dorn of Adrian Lukis, and, in Jade Williams a Masha who suffers stoically without descending into drunkenness, and for once seems sympathetic to her husband’s long trek home in the rain. Des McAleer, forbidding in the first two plays, gives the bailiff Shamrayev’s control of estate horses a consistency that suggests someone out to assert his little corner of authority, dressed with self-important smartness. Yet I’d make a case for the most raw, in Platonov
Is its every moment gripping? Is every moment of life gripping? Of course not, but inreasingly each detail finds its place in an overall pattern where the exuberant and the routine combine into a picture of lives in the context of a society as static as it is endless – and not only in geographical terms. Chekhov provides all aspects of life, infused with a shape and psychological understanding that gives point to seemingly tedious or mundane events.
As these Russian locations, so much the same in overall effect despite their differences in detail of layout, and these people become ever-more familiar, Chichester, through Kent’s productions, seems to take audiences on a tour of a country and a society that are unfamiliar on their surface, but increasingly speak-out the essentials of human existence.
Nikolai Triletsky: Joshua James.
Anna Petrovna: Nina Sosanya.
Porfiri Glagolyev: Jonathan Coy.
Sergei Voynitzev: Pip Carter.
Timofei Bugrov: Brian Pettifer.
Mikhail Platonov: James McArdle.
Sasha Ivanovna: Jade Williams.
Ivan Triletsky: Nicholas Day.
Maria Grekova: Sarah Twomey.
Sofya Yegorovna: Olivia Vinall.
Pavel Shcherbuk: David Verrey.
Osip: Des McAleer.
Kiril Glagolyev: Mark Donald.
Yakov: Nebli Basani.
Vasili: Mark Penfold.
Katya: Beverley Klein.
Marko: Col Farrell.
Nikolai Ivanov: Samuel West.
Mikhail Borkin: Des McAleer.
Matvyei Shabyelski: Peter Egan.
Anna Petrovna/Sarah: Nina Sosanya.
Yevgeni Lvov: James McArdle.
Zinaida Savishna: Lucy Briers.
Marfusha Babakina: Emma Amos.
4th Guest: Mark Donald.
1st Guest: Col Farrell.
Gavrila: Mark Penfold.
Kosykh: Brian Pettifer.
Avdotya Nazarovna: Beverley Klein.
Piotr/2nd Guest: Nebli Basani.
3rd Guest: David Verrey.
Pavel Lebedev: Jonathan Coy.
Sasha: Olivia Vinall.
Medevedenko: Pip Carter.
Masha: Jade Williams.
Sorin: Peter Egan.
Konstantin: Joshua James.
Nina Zarechnaya: Olivia Vinall.
Yakov: Nebli Basani.
Polina: Lucy Briers.
Evgeny Dorn: Adrian Lukis.
Shamrayev: Des McAleer.
Irina Arkadina: Anna Chancellor.
Boris Trigorin: Samuel West.
Maid: Sarah Twomey.
Workman: Mark Donald.
Director: Jonathan Kent.
Designer: Tom Pye.
Lighting: Mark Henderson.
Sound: Paul Groothuis.
Music: Jonathan Dove.
Costume: Emma Pyott.
Hair/Wigs/Make-up: Campbell Young Associates.
Fight director: Paul Benzing.
Associate director: Michael Oakley.
Assistant director: Emily Burns.
Associate designer: Tim McQuillen Wright.