Chichester Festival Theatre
Three early Chekhovs presented by a hard-working ensemble at Chichester.
The relatively well-known Seagull preceded by the first, Platonov, and Ivanov, from 1887.
Not the Stoppard version, but the earlier translation by David Hare – sometimes stilted [“It wasn't at my wish.” ?], and not as radical as one might expect.
But very well served in Jonathan Kent's stylish production. Tom Pye's set is atmospheric – a real stream, with weeds, bare-branched trees, grass growing in the cracks of the paving. Impressively transformed into the Lebedev's drawing room, card games, smoking and gossip. And Ivanov's “tap-room” study, with sketches and maps on the walls.
Sam West's Ivanov is already poring over his accounts by the light of an oil lamp as we arrive: he's a caring, ambitious young man, who tries to do things differently, to take risks, but is beset by problems of all kinds.
Nina Sosanya and Olivia Vinall both excellent as the women in his life: the Jewish wife, playing the cello [echoed in Jonathan Dove's evocative score] and dying of TB, and the young innocent whose infatuation with Ivanov brings about the tragic dénouement, as the cello is heard one last time and the wall disappears to reveal the suicide's recumbent form.
A glorious gallery of characters surround them – the satirical portraits of local celebrity: Brian Pettifer's tedious card-player, Peter Egan's Callow-ish Count, big, bearded and bombastic.
Jonathan Coy – a Chichester regular – is the harassed council chairman, Des McAleer outstanding as the estate manager, and James McArdle gets under the skin of the “honest” young doctor who constantly criticises Ivanov, threatening to expose his alleged intentions.
Not forgetting Mark Penfold, making the most of the ancient retainer Gavrila.
This is not Chekhov at the height of his game. Sometimes the symbolism – the fireworks, the owl's screech – seems overwrought.
But it's revealed as a fine drama, nonetheless, in Kent's passionate production, set in its dramatic context in this “Birth of a Genius” trilogy.
before curtain-up from my seat in the front row ...