Writer: Anton Chekhov
Director:Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd
Reviewer: Claire Hayes
One thing you could take from Dead Centre’s shocking and visceral Lippy at last year’s Mayfest is to expect the unexpected from this Dublin-based theatre company. So, to open this year’s festival, its UK premiere of Chekhov’s First Play promises to be anything but a traditional interpretation of Platonov, written by Anton Chekhov as an 18-year-old and widely considered unstageable.
Loosely based around a dissolute central character and the four women who compete for his affections, an uncut version of this sprawling and chaotic play would involve 20 characters and take over five hours to perform. While still capturing Chekhov’s essential tone and themes on stage, director Bush Moukarzel provides a live commentary to the audience through headphones to explain the plot and cuts he’s made. With deadpan timing, he quickly takes over; regretting directorial decisions, commenting on characters’ motivations and the six actors’ inability to portray them and quipping as he pauses for a line: ‘this play is getting in the way of me explaining it.’
Knowing Dead Centre, this can’t last. Just as you feel you have a handle on what’s happening, the artifice of the 19th Century is stripped away by a wrecking ball striking through the grandiose country house set. An audience member is brought on stage to portray the central character. Microphones are torn off and the actors’ words through headphones are out of synch with those on stage. It all adds to the overwhelming sense of disorientation.
Fast forwarding to the present day with dance music, voiceovers for bank ads and medical drips containing red wine, the production becomes as messy and painful as the original play, but with a challengingly fresh twist. Action degenerates into nihilism, turning Chekhov’s obsession with property on its head and exploring the enigmatic boundaries of meaninglessness.
Unfortunately, in this performance, a technical hitch prevented the wrecking ball from working properly and (having established this was unintentional) the production inevitably lost some of its momentum. Nevertheless, it’s transparently clear that Dead Centre is doing remarkable things in its take on what 21st Century theatre can and should be exploring. Whether you’re an aficionado of the stage or simply enjoy having your preconceptions challenged, this is another startlingly memorable and joyously original 70 minutes you really shouldn’t miss.
Runs until 14 May 2016 | Image: Contributed