National Theatre's Young Chekhov Season Review

  • Our critic's rating:
    Average press rating:
    Thursday, August 4, 2016
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    Individual ratings: "Platonov" (*****), "Ivanov" (****), and "The Seagull" (****)

    There'a a surprising paradox at the heart of a day's theatre of three plays that each revolve in different ways around characters suffering from debilitating depressions, and that is that they are far from depressing. Chekhov is for me the theatre's patron saint of depression: as a sometime sufferer myself, he truly understands it in all its life-draining power, and the damage it causes to ourselves and in the seemingly helpless addiction cycles some of us play out, to others.   

    That's particularly apparent in Platonov, the unfinished play that was discovered 20 years after its author's death, and now brilliantly adapted by David Hare, and presented as the opening salvo in a long day and is easily its best part. 

    As in each of the plays that follow, it revolves around a helplessly self-obsessed character who creates damage in the wake of his own passivity. He causes unwitting romantic havoc all around, but -- and here's the important thing -- doesn't make himself happy in the process, either. James McArdle exudes a strange kind of charisma: at once self-pitying yet also seemingly powerless to stop the events around him. 

    "I don't want to be happy, I want to be with you," he tells his wife Sasha,  as he vacillates between a widow Anna Petrovna (Nina Sosanya) and a married woman Sofya Yegorovna (Olivia Vinnall) he is also having affairs with. 

    Last seen at the Almeida in 2001 in a production directed then, as now, by Jonathan Kent, it is a magnificent, sprawling play that has been stunningly and stingingly reined in here. Kent also returns to Ivanov that he previously directed at the Almeida in 1997, which by comparison is a more slow-burning account of one man's inward-looking depression. That fine actor Geoffrey Streatfeild, following in the footsteps of Ralph Fiennes (at the Almeida) and Samuel West (in this production's first outing at Chichester last summer) is a worthy successor to them. 

    Last and not least, Chekhov's long-acknowledged masterpiece The Seagull remains one of theatre's most radical and exciting plays about the artistic life itself, and the cost and preoccupations of it, as an actress mother, her writer boyfriend and aspiring playwright son (respectively Anna Chancellor, Streatfeild and Joshua James) play out an intense psychological drama between them.  

    I recently interviewed Jonathan Kent who told me of seeing the experience of seeing the plays across a single day, "The complete days are thrilling, thrilling events; to see all three plays, of course it is a marathon, but it is almost symphonic, seeing how themes re-occur and how we can hear leitmotifs going through all three plays. Unlike, say, The War of the Roses, which tells a narrative, this more subtle and elliptical." 

    You can, of course, see each play individually, but the cumulative effect of them is overwhelming. Chekhov always takes you on a journey, but this amazing day is also an adventure.


    What the Press Said...

    This energetic take on a piece customarily seen as repetitive and overstuffed is presented as part of a trio of Chekhov plays in absorbing versions by David Hare. It’s a triumph for Kent and the superb ensemble he has put together — as well as for Chichester Festival Theatre, where the productions originated, and for the savvy National Theatre that now provides them with a London home."
    Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

    To buy tickets for IVANOV, click HERE.

    To buy tickets for THE SEAGULL, click HERE.

    For PLATANOV tickets, click below.

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