Chekhov's Dildo

Play with Chekhov at your peril, children. Although, as a title, Chekhov’s Dildo is clever – saucy enough to garner attention, while giving those who understand the reference a warm glow of satisfaction in places the dildo generally does not reach – the play itself transgresses five out of the six of the man's other, 1888, rules of great storytelling, as well as that most famous of all, alluded to above.

Play with Chekhov at your peril, children

So let us start with reference to Uncle Anton's dictat about never introducing something into a play unless you mean to use it. Opening the programme, we discover an entire page – one fifth of the contents – devoted to 'a note' from director Merle Wheldon-Posner on the subject of 'Navigating Intimacy On Stage'. We have not simply had 'intimacy' introduced, but thrust at us, at some length. More of that dildo later, however.

The best that can be said about this Merle's attempts at 'navigation', is that she simply cast and directed the hour to have no intimacy at all. Which seems a great shame.

What we have is two young people (according to said programme, pronouns she/her and he/him) in their underwear, on and/or near a double bed. They speak lines about sex they have had. But there is no connection, no chemistry, no intimacy. And, in a two hander that is all about that sex they have had, why they had it, how they had it and how it was used and abused between them, this is tantamount to directing a vegan version of Babette's Feast with a cast of anorexics.

The production – and I do feel that it is this production, its direction and its casting, rather than the writing – betrays a comprehensive lack of respect for and/or understanding of a word that comes from the Latin 'intimus', meaning 'inmost'.

But let us move on.

Of Chekhov's six rules, Rule 4 Extreme brevity. is more or less adhered to by writer Rex Fisher. An hour might not be 'extreme' brevity, but it is mercifully short.

Rule One - Absence of lengthy verbiage of a political-social-economic nature - is, however, buried under a limp heap of cliched sexual and personal recriminations that would not have looked out of place in something written forty years ago. As indeed it was. And frequently much better than this. If women – intelligent, young women – have not yet got past the cliched misandry that is the self-serving dramatisation and sexual politicisation of personal hindsight, then there is no hope. Interestingly, the play is written by a man. I do not know enough about him to speculate as to what drove him to write this.

Rule Two - Total objectivity - is tricky at the best of times, but here, the objectivity-obliterating agenda grows, like a bad smell, in the room and in the performances until it is all that is perceptible.

Rule Three - Truthful descriptions of persons and objects – of course, these characters are fictional so there is no objective truth. She is clever, sparky, strong. He is about to get tenure, dominant, arrogant. See above re agenda. The performances-by-numbers (albeit watcheable and assured) and the utter lack of any sense that these two even knew each other, let alone shared a sexual history, mean that disbelief is never even on tiptoe, let alone suspended.

Rule Five - Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype - as our hour totters down a dramatic road so often travelled there are service stations and huge illuminated signposts every few yards, (In brief: he was her tutor... they had sex quite a lot... she got a low grading for her paper... now she feels he abused her... so she is going to expose him as the predator she thinks he is and ruin his career through the power of posting a video of their recent encounter on TikTok.) Chekhov's Dildo flees audacity and originality, embracing the stereotype with a wholeheartedness that would disappoint old Anton.

Rule Six - Compassion - in a piece so agenda driven, there is no room for compassion. Not even the view from both sides could be squeezed in here. But then Rule Four allows for little exposition time.

So let me provide some compassion. The set was clever and accessorised with Chekhovian reference. The dildo was impressive. I would very much like to see both performers in something else. I absolutely love the notion of people from completely outside the theatre world writing for the stage, as happened here. And there were some others in the audience who seemed to empathise with and enjoy the performance very much.

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Reviews by Kate Copstick

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Chekhov's Dildo

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The Blurb

Chekhov’s Dildo is a squeamishly funny break-up-sex comedy giving us a sneaky peak under the covers of those embarrassing pillow talk tête-à-têtes. Ex-lovers Annabel and Rufus show us what it means to fall back between the sheets of a past romance that probably should have remained just that: in the past.

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