By Brian Friel, freely adapted from the play by Turgenev
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Tuesday 28th September 2010
My experience of this performance was affected by a number of factors. My knee was hurting from time to time which made it hard to concentrate, I nodded off during the ‘quieter’ bits, the audience weren’t the best – lots of coughing and other noises – and this very free adaptation lacked any real depth to keep me interested. No complaints about the performances, although as this was only a few days after the production opened, there may be more to come in that department. No, the main problem was that the story was very weak, and both Steve and I felt we were watching a soap opera on stage (and I don’t mean that in a nice way).
The set was unusual, in that the trees spread their canopy out into the auditorium, which made us feel included in the location, if not the action. The back of the stage was filled with the house and veranda, sloping diagonally back from our left. The rest was garden, including a vegetable patch and water pump. Very effective, but I did find myself thinking that with so much foliage cover, the lawn wouldn’t actually be in the sun very much, if at all, yet the dialogue suggested baking summer heat. Just one of those things, I suppose.
The story was very simple. At a country estate in Russia, the wife, Natasha, has fallen for her son’s new tutor, Alexis, as has her ward, Vera. Natasha also has a lover-on-a-string, Michel. These romantic entanglements all come to a head during the play, with hurt and disappointment all round. The only exceptions were those who hadn’t bought into the notion of romantic love, such as the doctor and the companion, and just about everyone leaves the place, or is planning to, at the end of the play. I enjoyed the scene of the doctor wooing the companion, especially his offer to wait for her reply for a month, six months, a year, to which she replies, ‘you’ll have your answer tomorrow morning’.
The post show started off OK, then paused while we acknowledged all the actors as they came onto the stage in dribs and drabs. Then it became a free-for-all, with many people talking and few listening – I’ve no idea what went on during this phase – and finally things settled down and we got a few questions and answers that were fairly interesting. Alexis’s Scottish accent was the actor’s own; the accents had been chosen to reflect the characters’ class and position. The actors had done an exercise early on in the rehearsal period, of describing each of the characters with a single adjective. Apparently all the women had described Alexis as fiery and virile, while the men had all described him as a selfish little git. This free adaptation of the much longer Turgenev play was first performed in Dublin in the 1990s. Very much an ensemble piece. Most of the cast liked their characters. Some of the audience much preferred this version of the play to others they’d seen; one chap commented that previously he’d left after a fortnight! In fact, there were more empty seats during the second half than there had been during the first.
I’m glad I’ve seen it, but equally glad we haven’t booked for another performance.
© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me