Writer: Paul Ham
Director: Hamish MacDougall
Reviewer: Lizzie Kirkwood
It’s a problem that all those who decide to tackle a Chekov adaptation must resolve; is the text comic or tragic? The most successful productions are the ones that answer ‘both’ and aren’t afraid of either. Happily, this was the attitude of Define: Choice’s stage adaptation of three Chekov short stories; ‘A Play’, ‘The Chemist’s Wife’ and ‘An Avenger’.
The three stories were represented by three objects, that each lay concealed in a box wrapped up in brown paper, which audience members were asked to select one at a time, thus deciding the order of the pieces. This established a tone of boisterous unpredictability and the company’s mad scrabbling to prepare for each piece suggested imminent chaos, whereas (happily) the pieces were highly refined and slickly rehearsed.
It is doubtless that this production chooses to emphasise the comic aspects of these stories, in particular ‘the whisk’; an adaptation of ‘An Avenger’, which uses movie references, slapstick, and hammy performances to comic effect, but the jokes are never cheap and rely on the excellent comic abilities of the company and the wonderfully clever script, written by cast member Paul Ham. It is not possible to single out one performance (although Graham Dickson has a hilariously uncanny ability to play a drunk) as each cast member inhabits the same high level of skill, but it was a pleasure to see a fine comic actress in Fleur Keith, who was able to be both funny and alluring; beautiful and a clown. It is a pleasure to see a performer strike a balance that many imagine not possible.
A small criticism of the piece would perhaps be its reliance on comedy, but the adaptation of ‘The Chemists Wife’ was surprisingly moving, with its silences and furtive glances between Fleur Keith and Brendan Murphy. Silencing a roaring audience with a moment of tender awkwardness is a tall order, but one that the production managed with ease and genuine tragedy.