On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco / Can Cause Death

Nobody said that a one man show bringing Chekhov and Alison Carr together was going to be easy. In fact, the double bill is very demanding upon the actor in question; first up is Chekov’s short play about a disgruntled husband using his lectures as a way to vent about his moody old wife before Alison Carr answers back by finally giving the wife’s side of the story. She has been kept quiet for a few hundred years, after all.

The story has the potential to be utterly absorbing. The finer details of family life are meticulously drawn out and we can’t seem to help ourselves when it comes to a Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars character portraiture. Chekhov fans may scoff, but essentially this play is a more elegant version of that classic nineties relationship manual - with subtleties, of course. This bill looks at the promises two young people frequently make to one another, only to inevitably disappoint in the end. If they stay in the relationship it is because they are already addicted to a certain kind of sadness.

Gordon Russell is an appealing storyteller, but this short bill needs an actor who is a master of the art. Russell was clearly more comfortable in the shoes of the husband Nyukhin , and was certainly far more convincing, but the metamorphism from husband to wife appeared to be a challenge. He seemed to merely be able to recount the wife’s side of the story, almost sympathetically telling it on her behalf. Wooden wife Popova, therefore, made the second half of the bill tedious, although the script was the less tired of the two.

Disappointingly, this made the beautifully directed on stage costume change appear to be mere spectacle. The symbolism was striking; it perfectly captured two individuals coming together as one in matrimony, for better and indeed, for worse. As Russell adjusted Popova’s long, black skirts and his bright eyes shined with tears that were never allowed to fall, he took on an unsettling stage presence for those few moments between stories.

Audiences should therefore be warned that, at times, this play can cause boredom, but certainly not death. Instead, it shows the harmful effects of a one man show for an actor who is very clearly suited to just one the roles he is faced with.

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
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Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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The Blurb

A husband and wife are brought together in this remarkable double-bill of classic comic Chekhov and new writing. 'Pure, experimental, laugh out loud genius' (Northern Echo). www.jhrmusics.co.uk.

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