By Anton Chekov
Directed by Philip Franks
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Tuesday 27th May 2008
It’s always a shame when a theatre like Chichester gets a great cast together, and then fails to do something really tremendous with them, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. To be fair, this wasn’t a dreadful production, and given our experience of the Nicholas Nickleby from the last two years, it may be it just needs more time to settle in.
The set was very sparse, with lots of silvery wood everywhere, stairs down at the back right, and some chairs and tables, together with a bookcase for the nursery scenes. For these scenes, a panel above the stage opened up, like a shutter rising, and a pair of cherry tree branches laden with blossom were displayed. They did look a bit like stag antlers, and there was no actual tree trunk on view, but as a symbol it worked very well, I thought. For the other scenes the furniture was changed much as would be expected, and there was one bright splash of colour for the party, as the curtains screening the rear of the stage were a vivid red.
Sadly, none of the performances were quite as vibrant, except for Jemma Redgrave as Varya, the adopted daughter, who was the best of the bunch. She portrayed someone who worries tremendously, but has a good heart, and who cares deeply for her adoptive family. Her suffering over the non-proposal by Lopakhin was moving, although I did feel they hadn’t quite worked out why he wasn’t going the distance with her. All the other performances were fine, but they didn’t gel into a coherent whole for me.
I enjoyed the magic tricks – Maureen Lipman did very well – and I did get a sense of the inexorable changes that were tearing these people away from the land they felt was theirs, but which they’d become too complacent and corrupt to take proper care of. I also liked John Nettleton’s Simeonov-Pishchik, always trying to get a loan. He reminded me of the choreographer in the ballet novels by Brahms and Simon, who’s always asking people to “’schange small scheque?” Hopefully this production will come on with more performances, but as it is, we were slightly disappointed.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me