Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Arcola Theatre and KP Productions Present
A New Version of Anton Chekhov’s Platonov by Helena Kaut-Howson
Reviewed by Helen and Garry McWilliams
‘A tale of sex, vodka and shattered dreams’ is the premise of this adaptation of a Chekhov classic. This proved to be an accurate summary of a powerfully emotive play.
Opening with a party is a good introduction to the central characters, as well as an insight into how the focal point: Mikhail (Misha) Platonov lives. The set is reflective of the corrosive nature of Platonov’s character (according to set designer, Iona McLeish), featuring aluminium stained by toxic spillage and a prominent ladder which we personally felt demonstrates the highs and lows of each character, it is used by Platonov in particular and adds an extra dimension. As always, with any Chekhov play, there is deeper meaning and this is a play that we could analyse on many levels. The characters in this tale, it seems are all searching for a better life and self-definition, which relates to the Russian way of life. This was transparent due to the precise direction by Kaut-Howson and is also reiterated in the programme notes.
We learn that everyone is in love with Platonov, the local school master (played by Jack Laskey with amazing energy and a wildness that brought the character to life with simply breath-taking effect), males and females alike are drawn in and are so besotted that they feel he is their chance of a better life. Of course it’s obvious to the audience that Platonov is anything but and indeed we were left wondering just what they see in the tousle-haired, alcoholic who is the reluctant ‘hero’ of the piece. ‘Hero’ and ‘Villain’ in the same guise, in fact. Even student Isaac Vengerovich (Oliver Hoare) is intrigued by the disillusioned teacher. Vengerovich represents the future and a new generation that Platonov appears to despise, yet envy simultaneously.
Simon Scardifield is the local doctor, Nikolai Triletsky – another slave to vodka, Scardifield plays the ‘clown’ with precise comic timing. A drunken doctor shouldn’t be so amusing, yet Dr Triletsky provided many comedy moments. Boyish in his relationship with Platonov and Sergei Voynitsev (Tom Canton) who is still in honeymoon mood with his beautiful new wife Sophia (Marianne Oldham). Sophia is a character of many depths and the transition from shy, uncomfortable newly-wed to the edge of delirium is portrayed brilliantly by Oldham. Susie Trayling is outstanding as the sexual predator, Anna Petrovna, step-mother to Sergei. Petrovna is blissfully unaware of the deep admiration from Osip (Mark Jax) a local vagrant and criminal. Jade Williams makes an excellent contribution as Maria Grekova, yet another woman mesmerised by the ‘leading man’. There is a ‘Mrs Platonov’, too – Nikolai’s sister, Sasha who is meek, mild and eager to please her husband. Amy McAllister takes this role and we felt that the audience were sympathetic to her character’s plight.
This is far from a love triangle for many reasons but it is certainly an unsightly mess! The root cause? Mikhail Platonov, who is so wrapped up in himself that he’s oblivious to the chaos around him – or maybe that’s the effect of all the vodka! There’s electric sexual tension, despair and cringe-inducing moments courtesy of a talented cast and a visionary director. The only slight down-side is the length of the play itself and the pace of act one appeared to ‘plod along’ more so than act two.
‘Sons Without Fathers’ runs until 4th May and we highly recommend it, please visit www.belgrade.co.uk to book your tickets!
Photographs courtesy of Simon Annand.