DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Chekhov’s First Play – Northern Stage, Newcastle

Writers: Anton Chekhov, Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel

Directors: Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel

Reviewer: Chris Collett

Aspiring playwrights should take comfort in the fact that even some the greatest dramatists struggled when they were starting out. Anton Chekhov may be regarded as a colossus of the theatre – second only to Shakespeare – but his first effort was pretty dire. Discovered in 1921 by Russian scholars, with its title page missing, the unnamed play is an over-complicated mess with far too many characters.

Irish theatre company Dead Centre take a wrecking ball to Chekhov’s early work – both metaphorically and literally – with an astonishingly original production that deconstructs the Russian playwright’s work and the very nature of theatre.

It’s clear from the start that this is not going to be an ordinary night at the theatre. Before the curtain opens, the director appears on stage to explain that he will be giving a live commentary on the play through the headphones that each audience member has been provided with. The reason for this is that Chekhov’s play is pretty opaque and the audience will need a hand understanding the subtext.

The opening scene is typical Chekhov – a bunch of middle-class Russians mope around a large country estate, eating, drinking and whining about the general futility of existence. The characters are all waiting for the appearance of Platonov, a character who they each think will give some meaning to their lives. The director apologises for the poor quality of the script and explains the gaps in the plot where he has edited out large chunks of the text. As the play progresses, he becomes increasingly frustrated with his actors, complaining about their delivery and missed lines. By the end of the first act, he is suicidal.

While things fall apart in the first half, they disintegrate completely in the second with the arrival of Platonov. Andrew Clancy’s set is smashed up, the actors abandon their roles and multiple realities blur into a single dreamlike state. An audience member joins the cast, an actor removes his clothes and joins the audience; another, orders a Chinese takeaway.

It’s compelling stuff and looks fantastic with a series of wonderfully lit and striking tableaux. Destruction has rarely appeared so beautiful.

Reviewed on: 26th April 2019 | Image: Adam Trigg 

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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