D’Animate presents three of Chekhov’s short plays, perhaps adding a touch more comedy than some might associate with the Russian master. First comes The Proposal, which concerns an offer of marriage that quickly descends into argumentative chaos. The initially verbose dialogue is countered by slapstick farce at the end. The text, translated by Michael Frayn, is as slick as would be expected from the author of Noises Off and the piece feels not dissimilar to a society comedy by the likes of Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw.
The same can be said of the following piece, The Bear, which tells of the heated exchanges between a grieving widow and a debt collector. The smart surroundings, plush carpet, and ornate paintings of the Merchants Hall venue require a small imagination input from the audience to evoke the homes of these bourgeois characters of a bygone age. Both characters undergo remarkable changes during the piece, as they realise that they enjoy acting out their social roles more than they enjoy embodying them.
The last of the three, Swan Song, is a much more sombre affair that the life work of a comic performer and the sacrifices he made in order to succeed. He recalls his lost love in a monologue to the audience, whilst the other two performers act out his memories through physical theatre and dance.
There are many similarities between the first two pieces, perhaps too many considering the disparity with the third, and one wonders if a different selection from the writer’s wide oeuvre might have provided more of a balance to the show.
The three performers are all highly competent and adept at switching characters between scenes. Will Mytum strikes an intriguing figure as the tragic comedian in the finale, whilst Helen Keech and Michael Stanley worked well as opposing, yet attracted, forces in the comedies. Their show serves well as an introduction to Chekhov and should also do enough to satisfy the company’s more established fan base.