Comedy Chekhov

Anton Chekhov
Bridge Theatre Company
Everyman, Cheltenham

Richard Derrington as the actor Svetlovidov Credit: Bridge Theatre Company

It’s too easy to throw around ‘Chekhovian’—I did it myself yesterday about English Touring Theatre’s must-see The Weir—to describe ultra-realistic plays about frustrated lives in the country.

Yet there is more to the penetrating observer of human folly than suggested by a characterisation based on his late, great works, as this intriguing selection of three early one-acters shows.

Chekhov turned to playwriting as a third career, after his work as a doctor and short-story writer, and while The Proposal shows the influence of Gogol grotesques, the even earlier Swan Song, in which an actor muses on his fading career, might almost point the way to Samuel Beckett.

Director Alison Sutcliffe frames these and The Bear as if played by the actor Svetlovidov—the name might be translated as spotlight catcher.

It is, at the start of Chekhov’s writing for the stage, a love letter to the theatre, and in the space of 15 minutes Richard Derrington pours out his devotion and disappointments like a drunkard, a tired old man re-animated by playing splendid cameo excerpts from King Lear and Hamlet.

Dani Carbery manages, remarkably, to transform herself into the plain, love-starved Natalya in The Proposal before re-appearing as the alluring widow Popova in The Bear.

It’s hard to maintain a grip on credibility with such exaggerated figures, but she and Mark Carey as choleric landowners in both plays give it all in the spirit intended. Their accelerating progress from naïve courtesies to personal insults is a joy, followed in The Bear by the canniness with which the pair see through each other’s pretences.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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