Adaptor: Michael Frayn
Director: Jenny Eastop
Reviewer: David Ralf
You know you’re getting the real thing with Michael Frayn’s Chekhov. Unlike some other big name translators of foreign drama, Frayn has strong Russian, and a keen comic ear. It shows in all of his Chekhov adaptations, Frayn is on particularly good form here. Three short stories and three short plays make for a mixed bag of comic manners and misery – Chekhov’s plays writ small and wicked.
Broad is the name of the game here, and ‘vaudeville’ and ‘sketch’ are the right words for Jenny Eastop’s approach to these pieces in this production. It makes for a very entertaining and indeed, laugh-out-loud, evening. The ensemble are ideal for this self-aware selection, kicking off with fantastic turns from Tom Barratt and Alexandra Ryall as two playwrights, established and aspiring respectively, in the most meta-theatrical offering, Drama. Of the pieces based on short stories, it is the most successful, although The Inspector-General also cheers as a sketch that feels like a Gogol out-take.
Other than Drama, its the two ingenue sketches that play best – the more well-known The Bear and The Proposal, with Ben Higgin’s joyous buffoonery opposite the skilfully understated Tara Dowd, and – unlikely as it sounds – genuinely hilarious slapstick from Oliver Lavery.
Of course some pieces were likely to disappoint, but the remaining two skits fell substantially short of this high standard. The Alien Corn, based on the story ‘In A Foreign Land’ is a dull xenophobic dialogue which should have been left off the bill, and The Evils of Tobacco is a monologue which always underwhelms, the reluctant lecturer feeling simply contrived, and in this case left sadly flagging by a overwhelmed Jeremy Booth.
A single drawing-room set serves each of the pieces, well-appointed with help from Derek Carlyle, and excellent costumes – excepting some curiously tied cravats – courtesy of Sarah Andrews. Enjoy the furnishings in the meagre sections, and revel in the hilarious moments for the best part of the evening. If you’ve never laughed at a Chekhov play before, the Jermyn Street Theatre has a sure-fire way to fix that.