Kaput!

Margaret Wilkinson

Northern Stage/Live Theatre co-production, with New Writing North

Live Theatre, Newcastle

(2004)

Review by Peter Lathan

A co-production between Newcastle's two leading producing theatres is always going to produce interesting work, especially since they are very different. Northern Stage has a very European perspective - its last production before going dark for refurbushment was Homage to Catalonia, in association with the West Yorks Playhouse and Teatro Romea, Barcelona - whilst Live is firmly rooted in Tyneside.

Kaput!, written by Margaret Wilkinson over a two year development period, working with designer Neil Murray and dramaturg Duska Rasosavljevic, which involved visiting the US and Russia, takes its inspiration from the short stories of Chekhov and American Raymond Carver. Its setting is the Russia of Chekhov's day, in a typically claustophobic Chekhovian setting circa 1880, and the home of an American car mechanic, circa 1980.

In 1880, the dying consumptive painter Sasha, the owner of the Dacha, is holding a dinner party at which are present his friend and doctor Dorin; Olga, a self-styled "free spirit" and her boring merchant husband Osip; an Orthodox priest, Father Andrei, who has taken a vow of silence until the possibility that Sasha might not leave his fortune to the church rears its head: and Sasha's servant, the beautiful Anna and her wheelchair-bound husband Ivan.

In 1980 Honey, wife of mechanic Bud, suspects him of being a murderer.

In 1880 Sasha tells a semi-mythological story about a young girl, daughter of a brute of a father, who wandered into the forest where she met a hunter. To escape her life, she realised that she had to bathe in a lake at midnight with the hunter. She never returned to her father. In 1980 twomen have been murdered around the lake where Bud and his friend Al go fishing. They are waiting for Nick, their friend who is bringing the beer. He does not turn up.

Dorin enthuses over the book he has waited six months to receive, HG Wells' The Time Machine, and sincerely believes in the possibility of time travel. Sasha, concerned that he has painted too little and will be forgotten when he dies, wants a son by his servant Anna. Dorin proposes to artificially impregnate her with sperm from Sasha.

A naked stranger walks into the dacha, asking "Where am I? New Jersey?" And so the two settings and their people start to merge.

It's a hugely complex play, mingling myth, science fiction, Chekhovian naturalism (and more than a touch of his comic view of his characters' lives) and American realism. The 1880 characters could have been created by Chekhov and the air of regret and faux-nostalgia is reflected in the 1980 scenes with the same kind of feeling of empty lives that we get from Sam Shepard, but without the hard brutalism which characterises his work.

Film footage makes its contribution to the complexity, playing out dreams and imaginings, and the company of ten draw us into this strange world on Neil Murray's off-white set, which, like the play, reveals greater complexity as the action develops.

This is a play which needs time. Long after it has finished, images and words return and clarify. Such a pity, then, that it had one of the smallest audiences I have ever seen at Live. However it runs until 30th October so there is still plenty of time left to see it. If you can get to Live before the end of the run, do so: you'll be glad you did!