Review of Chekhov's Farces

"Chekhov's outrageous audience pleasing farces" by aline waites for remotegoat on 06/05/08

CHEKHOV'S FARCES ( part of the Chekhov season) ***
At the Lion and Unicorn Theatre - every Fri, Sat and Sun at 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!


Chekhov's Farces


Naughty Chekhov

  • While we may happily admit that our average weekend is spent on the sofa watching Dancing On Ice with a takeaway in preparation for paralysing a handful of brain cells with jaegerbombs, there does occasionally come a time when we require more from our evening's entertainment than "celebrities" drenched in sequins. Sometimes we like a bit of culture, and there's no doubt that Chekhov ticks the high-brow box. Thankfully we found a way of enjoying respectable theatre without needing to swot up first. Naughty Chekhov is a set of ten sketches by the famed writer which make little comments on the nature of people and everyday life. You wouldn't even know that they were written by a 19th Century Russian if the characters didn't down so much vodka. We had a wonderful evening and learnt many life lessons: never marry an artist, listen to your parents, the French wear berets, that sort of thing. Visit the adorable studio theatre above The Lord Stanley in North London this week for the most hilarious tango you'll ever see in the flesh, a touch of innuendo and many shrill and silly women.

The Stage

Naughty Chekhov

Published Thursday 6 January 2011 at 12:34 by Jonathan Lovett

Long before his classic plays and even before his one-act masterpieces such as The Proposal, Anton Chekhov financed his medical training with a prodigious output of short stories and skits - ten of which are presented here.

Displaying little of the penetrating insight into the human condition for which he became famous, these farcical, sometimes crude vignettes show a young author enjoying the absurdities of the life around him, stuffed full with the provincial officials, actresses and struggling writers which were to figure so prominently in his later, greater work.

Seizing on this joie de vivre, directors Victor Sobchak and Shaban Arifi fire off the playlets like corks from ten bottles of bubbly, maintaining a heady atmosphere as they virtually bash into one another, so quickly does one piece follow the other.

Along the way, there are some imaginative touches - with a conversation originally in a railway carriage (An Enigmatic Nature) transformed into a hilarious, passionate tango, while The Darling, in which a woman’s husbands keep dying, is a model of barmy brevity.

An 11-strong cast play many parts, with special Chekhovian commendation to Sophie Brabenec for her terribly unlucky-in-love Olga, Venetia Grivas as a hysterical daughter, and Tom Idelson boasting a casting director’s dream of funny accents.

Review of Naughty Chekhov

"Great lashings of raunch comedy"
by Caiti Grove for remotegoat on 13/01/11

The 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.

          Naughty Chekhov

                     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