From Chekhov With Love

Many people may be unaware Chekhov wrote comedies. It is nice to see a new company tackling three short comedies to produce a pleasant night at the theatre.

steam productionsNewtown Theatre, Sydney Friday, 13 August, 2010 (Opening Night)
Many people may be unaware Chekhov wrote comedies. It is nice to see a new company tackling three short comedies to produce a pleasant night at the theatre.
The Jubilee (sometimes called The Anniversary); The Bear (perhaps the best known of all Chekhov’s short comedies) and The Proposal made up just over an hour of entertaining if not uproarious fare. It’s interesting to look at these light pieces as a reflection of Russian humour circa 1890 or therabouts. It was a kind of “Russian Vaudeville” of the time and amusement comes from disputes, illogicality, emotionality and chaos.
The ensemble were uniformly good and there was great energy from the cast who doubled in various pieces. The choice of multiple casting and run order of the pieces could have been worked to better effect. The setting was made by the use of Polish pieces of furniture (duly noted they were for sale!) and mostly period costumes, although there needed to be some attentions to detail in this respect. The gypsy like strains of music between plays added a nice touch whilst the cast conducted the changes remaining in character.
In The Jubilee the preening bank manager (Lynden Jones) has his bank jubilee day thwarted by his garrulous wife (Melissa Armstrong) a troublesome determined woman (Kate Buchanan) and his hard done by lackey (Chris Lewis). Jones was strong and vibrant contrasting with Lewis, a good grumbling foil and Buchanan a strong alien presence. Armstrong was suitably annoying as the wife concerned with recounting boring details. The piece overall is not one of the funniest of Checkov’s and relies carefully on pace and a build of chaos which Director Gavin Williams did not quite achieve.
The Bear was the best piece and the best presented on the night from director Jerome Pride. The widow (Sylvia Keays) is confronted by a soldier (Gavin Williams) come to collect a debt run up by her late husband. The servant (Dave Kirkham) tries to mediate as the soldier and widow go from argument to duel to falling in love with the space of minutes. The pace and interaction was good here, although Williams was at times too large in his portrayal early on, which left him little room to move later. A more measured performance may have made what was funny even funnier. There are some great lines in these pieces. Kirkham delighted in his talk to the widow about the soldiers being “Sugarplums -everyone a delight to the eye”. There is also some hard talking truths as when the soldier confronts the widow on her constancy “You may have buried yourself alive but you haven’t forgotten to powder your nose!” and “I’ll shoot her on principle- that is equality!”. Keays was morose, demure and provocative throughout the hurly burly, proclaiming innocently towards the end “I’ve never had a pistol in my life!”.
The Proposal (again directed by Pride) sees a father (Lynden Jones) approached for the hand of his daughter (Laura Turner) by a nervous and somewhat hypochondriacal suitor (Gavin Williams). The daughter appears not knowing the reason for the visit and a huge argument over land ensues. When the suitor leaves the daughter finds out about the proposal and begs her father to get him back, whereupon the next argument erupts and the suitor nearly dies before a hasty acceptance is made. Turner was excellent in this piece as the feisty girl, angry and convincing during the disputes. Some of the insults were fun “Your mother was deformed!” and if “All you do is gorge and gamble” perhaps you should go see these plays instead. Until 4 September 2010 

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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