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ChucklewithChekhov– Barons Court Theatre, London

Writer: AntonChekhov

Director: Mackenzie Thorpe

Reviewer: Jon Wainwright

Like three signature dishes on a tasting menu, these three shortChekhovpieces each has its individual bite as well as combining to showcase their creator’s broader talent. Bringing the whole show in at just one hour in total, Green Girl Productions use a simple set and rely on some fine comic acting to do justice to these classic works, which are slices of human life marinaded in absurdism and served up as realist drama.

What should have been the easiest marriage proposal of all time – he likes her, she likes him, her father approves – rapidly turns into a nightmare for everyone concerned. TheChekhovianjoke is that the proposal is dramatically essential and yet utterly redundant: the way they carry on, Lomov and Natalia are as good as married already. It’s the kind of bickering that’s hilarious to watch precisely because we know how horrible it is to be trapped inside a slanging match.

Nicholas McBride plays Lomov as a bundle of nervous energy, shaking like a leaf as he gulps down a glass of water. We sympathize, at first. Who wouldn’t be anxious in such a situation? A modern audience might wonder if getting togged up in evening dress and gloves was how men proposed to women in 19th Century Russia, but it seems it was odd behaviour even then.

Gemma Rook is a feisty Natalia, her working clothes and no-nonsense manner comic contrasts to the formality of Lomov’s suit and his painful diffidence. While she’s not at all outraged by her father’s proprietorial attitude (Chubokov introduces Lomov as “a merchant come for his goods”), she knows what’s hers when it comes to land and isn’t prepared to give an inch (“I don’t want to give up anything of mine”). At the height of their quarrel, she grabs his bowtie and shakes it loose, along with his last shred of dignity.

Chubokov (played by Robert Pearce) joins in the fun and the two men are soon like Basil Fawlty in a head-to-head with his doppelgänger. The misunderstanding’s eventually cleared up, sort of, and the encounter taken as a foretaste of the “family bliss” to come.

Mackenzie Thorpe plays another nervous male character, Ivan Nyukin, giving a “scientific lecture” of sorts on the evils of tobacco. Like Lomov, he’s easily distracted and soon wanders from his text. When he learns that his wife hasn’t arrived yet, the lecture degenerates into an existential digression (“I can say what I like”). He, too, was young once, and once had dreams. Now, he just wants to run away from it all.

Celebrating the anniversary of a commercial bank is a joke in itself, but Khirin doesn’t see the funny side. In the original, the bank’s aged book-keeper is male, but in this production the character becomes younger and female, and is played to perfection by Laura Glover. The switch is a great success, as Glover glowers for put-upon underlings the world over. While Lomov and Nyukin are more than capable of distracting themselves from their tasks, poor Khirin is forever being interrupted by others as she tries to meet a deadline. What’s not exactly helping is her having a streaming cold. Wearing a long scarf and clutching tissues to a red nose, she’s trying to compile a report (“poetic fiction”) before the shareholders arrive.

She knuckles down, since if everything goes to plan and “the public is properly put into blinkers,” her boss has promised her a fat bonus. She can only stare daggers at Shipuchin’s young trophy wife, Tatiana, who comes tottering in, exhausted from shopping and telling a story about meeting a young man, a sailor and a student (“I told them that I wasn’t married… we chattered tillmidnight”). The scurrilous in the audience might draw parallels with contemporary Russia and the antics of oligarchs, but the truth is thatChekhov‘s satire resonates in all times and places.

Runs until15th June

Writer: AntonChekhov Director: Mackenzie Thorpe Reviewer: Jon Wainwright Like three signature dishes on a tasting menu, these three shortChekhovpieces each has its individual bite as well as combining to showcase their creator's broader talent. Bringing the whole show in at just one hour in total, Green Girl Productions use a simple set and rely on some fine comic acting to do justice to these classic works, which are slices of human life marinaded in absurdism and served up as realist drama. What should have been the easiest marriage proposal of all time – he likes her, she likes him, her…

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Resonates in all times and places

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