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.

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.