Young Chekhov Season
In versions by David Hare
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Set Design by Tom Pye
Chichester Festival Theatre
Saturday 10th October 2015
Three plays in a day:
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Perhaps it should be billed as David Hare’s Young Chekhov season, because all three are in his versions and he is the inspiration behind the project. Platanov in his version dates back to 2001 (and was premiered on 9/11). Ivanov dates from 1997 and his version of The Seagull is premiered here in 2015 to complete the trio.
They share adaptor, director and main set. Hare had the project in his mind for fifteen years, and says in the programme:
(These are plays) which Chekhov wrote, as it were, before he became Chekhov. The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and Uncle BVanya have been in the international repertory ever since they were written, sometimes giving more pleasures to actors wh relish their ensemble qualities than to audiences, who in second-rate productions, find them listless. But less attention is paid to the playwright’s earlier work. It is essential to see these vbrant and much more direct plays for what they are – thrilling sunbursts of youthful anger and romanticism – rather than for what they portend. (David Hare)
Three in a day? We’ve done the Henry VI trilogy, and we’ve done the ten plays in Tantalus in a day. This is a different experience, because they’re not a trilogy, but free standing plays. Because Platanov was never produced and was not even discovered until 1923, themes and almost lines appear again in Ivanov and The Seagull. He recycles the name Anna Petrovna in two for different characters (both played by Nina Sosanya). So we were not watching a continuous story, so by The Seagull a slight Chekhov fatigue was felt by both of us.
Part of the problem is Chekhov had fixed points which appear in all three:
- drink excessive amounts of vodka from shot glasses
- mention how hot it is in summer
- have a character appear with a shotgun
- have an adulterous babe magnet as a central character
- have a doctor character who has no faith in his own remedies
- have guests mentioning hunger because they haven’t been fed
- having someone feeling ill
- have at least one person named Sasha
- mention Hamlet overtly in every play
- have mortgages, loans and debts central with someone about to call them in
- end with the hero dying from a gunshot.
While I’m fully aware that Shakespeare and Chekhov are often compared, even if we take girl dressed up as boy, and people separated at birth there is not the same hammering on the same points! In Platonov we even get To go, or not to go … which got a great laugh (and I’m sure is David Hare).
It was a great day, better than we had expected. Ensemble playing was uniformly exemplary, as was direction and set design. If I lived nearer Chichester, I might try seeing them in ones and twos rather than as three … and in fact chronological order of writing needn’t dictate the order you see them in.