Review of Chekhov's Farces
"Chekhov's outrageous audience
pleasing farces" by aline waites
for remotegoat on
CHEKHOV'S FARCES ( part of the Chekhov season) ***
At the Lion and Unicorn Theatre - every Fri, Sat and Sun at 4.pm until May 25th
As part of the Chekhov season at the Lion and Unicorn, Act Provocateur International are presenting a selection of farces, written by the master when he was studying at medical school in order to eke out a living for his family.
Victor Sobchak, artistic director and co-founder of the company can always be relied upon to come up with something different and these short plays - or revue sketches - are nothing like the thoughtful, sensitive comedies and subtle characterisations of the playwright's heyday. This is the first time they have been played on stage and will probably never be seen again. They are outrageous farces, indicative of an adolescent sense of humour.
The ten plays have all been assembled into revue format and follow each other at breakneck speed, with the cast of seven performing miracles of costume, accent and character changes. The first takes place on the 50th anniversary of a bank with Leander Pittis dressed with only combinations under his greatcoat as a grumpy Russian accountant who hates. Nika Khitrova, as the Chairman's wife arrives unexpectedly wearing a short red skirt, a ridiculously huge ostrich feather on her head waving in the air and the artificial skin of some unknown animal around her shoulders. This causes a certain amount of stress exacerbated by the appearance of Karen Rydings as a distraught and violent customer demanding money. It all ends in a traditional chase.
In other episodes there is a German model called Brunhilda who refuses to pose in the nude; an argument between a Frenchman and a Russian who hate each other until they realise they both hate the English even more; a lecherous director who mendaciously promises his lover the role of Ophelia; a girl who applies for a job, but turns out to be too honest and the whole show culminates with Alice Fernbank as Olga a much married diva whose husbands die in quick succession. The various husbands are played in heavy disguise by aforementioned members of the company, and Lucie Howard is the androgynous bearer of the bad news as well as the funeral arranger.
There is an awful lot to grasp hold of - too much - but all is riotous and fun. The actors, multicultural, multinational, multilingual all seem to be having a wonderful time and their infectious enjoyment transmits itself to the audience.
This is a jolly way to spend a weekend afternoon - it would be wise to book as, apparently, so many other people feel the same way!
Review of Naughty Chekhov
lashings of raunch comedy"
Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and Uncle Vanya are Chechov's most famous plays -
naturalistic in style, serious in nature. Quite a surprise then, to find a
performance dramatising his lesser known short stories - and to find them
hilarious, energetic and raunchy (often all at the same time). This is a daring
and polished presentation of texts that deserve to be heard - but need a
production with panache in order to strip back the fusty language and revive
the glamour of Anton's characters. Theatre Collection has succeeded in doing
just this and with a flair and buzz that holds the audience gripped.
There are some very strong performances from this cast. Despite the somewhat basic design, there were plenty of beautifully executed scenes. The actors really filled the stage and relished their characters' quirks. It's clear the company has perfected its interpersonal chemistry. In one scene, a Spanish dancer and his lover are locked in passionate embrace. The intensity is punctured when her Romeo doesn't live up to expectations - and the fall out that ensues - full of melodramtic outbursts - is truly hilarious.
The plot is at times a little difficult to follow, as the stories often dive in at the middle point - and only explain afterwards. But once the audience adapts to this, the sequence of mystery and then surprise becomes a joy not a chore. The stories are modernised but still exude a raw, humorous Russian spirit - the line "I'm just having another glass of vodka" recurred quite naturally.
Ooh, You are Naughty!
Only laughter can inoculate us
against such human diseases as pomposity, hypocrisy, self-centeredness,
laziness, or - the worst of all - wasting life…Chekhov. If there were more naughty, comic Chekhov about, and if the swollen, pompous
monoliths of the theatre who receive stifling amounts of funding had the
wit to bring this type of evening to the mainstream, the dynamic new company,
Theatre Collection might have a battle on its hands for the audiences for
the great Russian master’s work.
In something of a coup, Victor Sobchak, Artistic Director of the Theatre Collection, adapts for the stage this delightful side of Chekhov, whose work is usually reverentially served up by successive serious productions.
Responding with relish to the rich acting opportunities provided by this vibrant adaptation by Mr Sobchak of Chekhov short stories, all the skilled cast deliver daring performances, with superb moments everywhere. Tom Idelson and Venetia Grivas as Kuzma and Tatyana provide a memorable pair of comedy grotesques, the insistent poverty and simplicity of Pauline Peters’ Merchutkina brought an admiring smile, and Johanne Wang-Holm’s entrances became a comic turn in themselves. But it was the spectacular comic dance sketch by Mr Idelson (also choreographed by him) and the dazzling Miss Grivas that carried the evening. I doubt that more talented work can be found in London.
This company promises much and delivers more.
Saul Reichlin Remotegoat