Mayfest Shorts- Chekhov’s First Play (Bristol Old Vic)

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If it looks like Chekhov, sounds like Chekhov and feels like Chekhov then surely it is Chekhov? Well perhaps not in Dead Centre’s thrilling deconstruction of his first play Platonov, that keeps the tone and themes of the great Renaissance man and spins it into something inventive and fresh, irreverent yet faithful to the original. It is in short unmissable and a terrific start to Mayfest ‘16 which is continuing to go from strength to strength. It’s one of the most intellectually stimulating seventy minutes I have had in the theatre -well ever- a show made in homage to the seasoned theatre aficionado, God knows what those who can’t identify their Chekhov from their Pirandello’s will think, but then it’s really not designed for them.

I pluck Pirandello out of the air because there are similarities to his Six Characters In Search Of An Author, a play that begins in a style we feel we have a handle on before a wrecking ball literally takes out a section of the set and it turns into something else entirely. You can count off other inspirations; Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree in a performer taking centre stage who has no idea what to expect and lives up to the Stanislavski mantra of ‘playing the action in the moment’, Joe Hill Gibbons takes on the classics at the National and Young Vic. Let’s be honest it’s the trendy theatre goers wet dream.

The first half plays it relatively straight o, a slightly wooden portrayal of Chekhov’s first unwieldy play taking place on the stage while a  director’s commentary  plays into our headphones by Bush Moukarzel’s ego driven director, dryly informing us that life and Chekhov’s poor writing is getting in the way of his masterpiece. Then the set is destroyed, the language is broken down, an audience member is guided to play the titular leading role, costumes are stripped off and we are in a world a mile away from the privileged discontent of the wealthy land owners and into an Ireland where to own anything is a pipe dream.

It’s fragmented, dizzying, stimulating, occasional opaque but light and fun even through the howls of despair, likeNoises Off given a touch up by Samuel Beckett.

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