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Sons Without Fathers

Helena Kaut-Lawson
Arcola Theatre

Sons Without Fathers Credit: Simon Annand
Sons Without Fathers Credit: Simon Annand
Sons Without Fathers Credit: Simon Annand

Sons Without Fathers is based on Platonov by Chekhov, a play which he never considered finished. In its original form, the play has over five hours worth of material but thankfully this newly reworked version, adapted and directed by Helena Kaut-Lawson, is a more considerate three hours.

Still, by the end of this whirlwind of passion, drink and existential crisis, there is no doubt that we have been in the Arcola 1 space for a very long time. If the audience is feeling the long haul, the courageous cast of 13 must be thoroughly shattered. This somewhat to the detriment of the storyline which gets stuck on a high of chaos for far too long.

It’s a bit like Pearl Harbour—a natural conclusion seems to be reached but then more storyline is tagged on—and we stray into the realm of self-indulgent drama where anything remotely profound starts to sound suspiciously like a whole lot of “Look at me!, look at me!”

Sons Without Fathers follows the character of Mikhail Platonov (Jack Laskey), a Russian schoolmaster who has a liking for drink and making Hamlet-like speeches on the state of the country. His friends Nikolai Triletzky (Simon Scardifield) and Sergei Voynitzev (Tom Canton) have joined with him in his backwards provincial town to celebrate his name day. What follows is drunken pandemonium.

Past relationships are raked up; turns out Sergei’s beautiful city wife Sophia, an icy-cool Marianne Oldham, is the idealistic love of Platonov’s life. Susie Trayling is sensually smooth as the cougar Anna Petrovna, the devil of desire to Oldham’s angelic passions.

The most interesting characters are Osip (Mark Jax) the outsider and murderer; Jax is a welcome and bizarrely calming relief to the frantic comings and goings of other characters as he stalks and watches the goings on. Platonov’s long-suffering wife Sasha (Amy MacAllister) is also an oasis of quiet complexity, the scene at the opening of act 2 between Jax and MacAllister is long-awaited for change of tempo.

Sons Without Fathers is an epic piece of theatre which has excellent production values (all thanks to set design by Iona McLeish and lighting from Alex Wardle) but it is too long and becomes self-indulgent. I sincerely hope that a revised version appears.

Reviewer: Anna Jones