To Chekhov With Love: Afterplay and The White Peacock (Two One-Act Plays)

From the critically acclaimed SU Drama company comes a double play performance that combines Brien Friel’s Afterplay and an original piece named The White Peacock. One play is brilliant; one play is terrible. But would you believe that the cast-written play trumps the Irish behemoth?

What could have easily been a four star performance is ruined as Afterplay tarnishes the momentum of The White Peacock.

Opening with traditional Russian folk music, arranged and performed by Olga and Felix Ivanoff, The White Peacock begins with three mysterious women, known only as “the actresses,” who express their undying love for Anton Chekhov by listing his preferences and pet hates, echoing in a sing-song, synchronised chorus. Their lyrical voices are stopped short by the introduction of Olga Knipper, the only wife of Chekhov, who shared a short-lived marriage with the Russian playwright.

As a standalone play, The White Peacock is somewhat difficult to follow if one is unfamiliar with Chekhov’s life and works; the exclusive nature of the play can seem intimidating at times and leave one feeling slightly confused. However, even the most theatre-ignorant person can appreciate the talent of the actors and their power in creating vividly real characters, with particular praise going to writer and star Celia Madeoy as Olga. With a clear structure, The White Peacock is highly original and invites a whole new perspective to the life of Anton Chekhov.

The same cannot, however, be said for the second piece of the night: Afterplay. With little character development, Brian Friel’s drama is dull and unengaging and can only be fully appreciated in the context of Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, which Afterplay continues on from. The drama centres upon Andrey from Three Sisters and Sonya from Uncle Vanya in their encounter in a café and the small talk they make. The lack of conflict or any discernable plot leads to a fifty-minute slog of boredom until the discussion of Andrey’s life secret, but this arrives far too late to redeem the remainder of the act.

Perhaps it is wrong to blame the actors for their part. Certainly, both Leslie Noble and Joseph Whelan as Sonya and Andrey respectively are skilled enough to make the acting in Afterplay creditable. To give further credit where it is due, the Quaker Meeting House uses a rising stand that allows all audience members a perfect view of the stage, whilst the lighting in both plays is covered effectively well by the sound and technician expert Susannah Baron.

The use of Russian language and music adds to the production’s professionalism, whilst the slide show is effective in helping one keep up with the relevant history of Chekhov. That said, the choice of Brian Friel’s drama precludes a memorable evening. Call me unsophisticated, but listening to a discussion about mouldy brown bread, trees and cold tea for an hour is as tedious as it is pointless. What could have easily been a four star performance is ruined as Afterplay tarnishes the momentum of The White Peacock. 

Reviews by Stuart Mckenzie

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The Blurb

Two plays pay homage to Anton Chekhov. Brian Friel’s brilliant Afterplay imagines a meeting between Sonya (Uncle Vanya) and Andrey (The Three Sisters), 20 years after their plays. With Friel’s deft touch and vibrant language, these characters live again with all the longing, humour, and fortitude bestowed on them by Chekhov. The White Peacock is a devised work based on love letters between Chekhov and Olga Knipper during a time when he was travelling for health reasons and she was performing his plays with the Moscow Art Theatre.

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