At face value, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was, to put it one way, not a very happy man. So it’s a bold step when legendary Olivier, Tony and Academy Award-winning writer David Hare adapts three of the Russian playwright’s earliest texts – Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull – and from them forms a trilogy rooted in poverty, debt and disillusionment, with the goal of showcasing the writer’s theatrical genesis.
But following acclaim at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2015, this unique dramatic triptych transfers to the National Theatre, allowing audiences to witness all three of its outstanding plays, adapted and staged with an electrifying vivacity and stunning visuals, over the course of a single remarkable day.
What’s it all about?
Opening the trilogy is Platonov, Chekhov’s tale of a cavalier schoolmaster, described by his peers as “misogyny on wheels”, who seeks to avert the constrictions of middle age.
Chekhov’s first large-scale drama, Hare’s adaptation positions the play as the comical leg of the three pieces as the roguish Platonov finds himself the object of four women’s desires, juggling his attraction to each with a seemingly inevitable but oblivious desire to hit the self-destruct button at every turn. Fireworks fly – quite literally – as hilarious monologues, witty quips and frantic physical comedy mask a steelier criticism of the play’s setting.
The story of Ivanov is a contrastingly despondent exploration of a man trapped within the stale confines of his poverty, social status and marriage to a dying woman he no longer loves. Lacking hope, he fights to retain control of his own anguish and to hide his pain from the outside world but, in doing so, he succumbs to the temptations of an affair with shocking and deeply affecting consequences. You have been warned.
And, finally, to The Seagull, perhaps Chekhov’s best-known work, and hence brilliantly positioned as the final piece in demonstrating how far the playwright’s focus shifts from his early years.
At times comical, at others tragic, the evolution of art itself, driven by vivacious youth, comes under the scrutiny of older peers and is cruelly destroyed. The result is a compellingly timeless reflection of the relationships between the young and old and of respecting the past and the need to look forwards, as well as highlighting the role of artists and *cough* audiences.
Who’s in it?
A multi-talented, multi-roling company fully deserving of the plaudits surely on their way.
James McArdle is magnetic as a wearied Platonov in a tour de force performance at the centre of an increasingly desperate love pentagon. Don Juan-esque, he struts around the stage, sharply cynical, silver tongued and phenomenally charismatic, in a leading portrayal to remember, with eyes drawn to his stage presence as strongly as the affections of the women around him.
McArdle goes on to shine as the ‘honest’ Yevgeni Lvov, polar opposite to Geoffrey Streatfeild’s self-loathing but tragically self-contained Ivanov. In a display of sheer agony, Steatfeild is superb in evoking sympathy for an often despicable man, exploding with pain in a way that stuns the audience into silence. He also later plays conflicted writer Trigorin in The Seagull with a brilliantly understated performance.
The superb Nina Sosanya portrays a powerful and pitiful Anna Petrovna in Platonov and Ivanov, while the Olivier Award-nominated Anna Chancellor is the star name of The Seagull, playing the dismissive and arrogant mother Arkadina, source of much of the show’s humour, against Joshua James’ Konstantin, a despairing figure in the middle of a moving, futile fight to find his artistic voice.
Mention should also go to the versatile Olivia Vinall, whose talent shines throughout the trilogy as love-struck young ladies Sofya, Sasha and Nina respectively.
What should I look out for?
Keep an eye out for Tom Pye’s extraordinarily detailed, versatile and epic ‘small community’ set. The sheer variety of spectacular set pieces presented over the course of the day is worth the price of the tickets alone.
Oh, and in case you haven’t heard the phrase “Chekhov’s gun” before – well, he started early…
In a nutshell?
Superbly adapted, presented and portrayed, David Hare’s Young Chekhov Trilogy is an intense but extraordinary day out for the theatrical fan.
What’s being said on Twitter?
— Jill Winternitz (@JillWinternitz) August 3, 2016
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Will I like it?
It’s quite clear that embarking on the epic journey of the Young Chekhov Trilogy requires a willingness to explore his voice. But while not exactly an easy watch, the three shows are played with such staggering dramatic brilliance that the experience can only be described as gratifyingly rewarding, particularly in the case of the stand-out production, Platonov.
An enrapturing and deeply affecting theatrical marathon lies in store for the attendees of a three-show Young Chekhov Trilogy day. The Trilogy is a triumph – just don’t forget your sandwiches.
The Young Chekhov Trilogy plays at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, until 8 October, with three-show days available on 13, 20, 24 August, 3, 17, 24 September and 8 October. Alternatively, you can buy tickets for Platonov through us here, Ivanov here, and The Seagull here.