Taking a bite into Chekhov is no mean feat at the best of times. D’Animate’s vivid retelling of three Chekhov plays, which claims to ‘catapult’ Chekhov into the 21st century, certainly takes on what should be more than they can chew with a cast of three. However, D’Animate deftly tumbles through a trio of cunningly compressed performances. This is Chekhov as you have never known him before; melodrama abounds, but it’s perfectly pitched.
Maeve Smyth in particular excels in her portrayal of the argumentative object of affection in a piece that highlights the versatility of this small but perfectly formed cast.
Michael Rivers launches us into this fast paced production with eyes aglare and cheeks quivering as he delivers a lecture on The Dangers of Tobacco. Yet the facade of public speech rapidly disintegrates under pressure, as Rivers’ nervous narrator begins to give way to frustration and guilt, plagued by his responsibilities and the many women in his life. This guilt soon manifests itself physically within the other members of the cast, who utilize each other’s bodies brilliantly. Re-enacting scenarios described in the narrative, they move effortlessly together and apart. Then, abruptly, Rivers becomes a puppet himself, held by his fellow actors as they force him to the ground, with his austere and elusive wife controlling every move.
The dilemma of relationships plagues each of these pieces. In the second and strongest piece, The Proposal, we are presented with quarrelling lovers, a doting daughter, and a deranged father as plans for a proposal go horribly astray. Put together a hypochondriac wooer and a feisty land-grabbing lady and potential pre-nuptial nerves descend into a fully fledged argument of the would-be-fiancés. Maeve Smyth in particular excels in her portrayal of the argumentative object of affection in a piece that highlights the versatility of this small but perfectly formed cast.
Will Mytum’s impressive compression of the finale, Swan Song, brings a sudden shot of pathos after the farcical rendition of The Proposal. Mytum goes from some impressive eye twitching in ‘The Dangers of Tobacco’ to touching recalling a love affair that ends as his relationship with the theatre begins. At moments comical: ‘my whole body felt like the bottom of a parrot’s cage’, he eventually looks out towards the audience as if seeing the apparently empty auditorium of his drunken late night performance: ‘that pit out there...swallowed me up’. With this observation, the show turns unexpectedly metatheatrical. Mytum’s Vasili Svietlovidoff broods on the various ways in which his dealings with the theatre as a comedic player have changed his life, a contemplation that itself draws attention to D’Animate, a company who are themselves dabbling with the comedic. It’s a powerful performance, with Mytum’s rendition of Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages of man’ imbued with an urgent and deeply moving poignancy.
Bite sized this production certainly is - it’ll leave you hungry for more.