Writer: Anton Chekhov
Directors: Cyrill Kashlikov
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
You would typically associate music hall with late Victorian / Edwardian Britain; in fact it seems a very English form of entertainment, particularly associated with performers from London’s East End. So it’s rather strange to see a Russian version using Chekhov short stories as its inspiration and even more strangely the whole thing actually works quite well. There are five mini-plays all emphasising some life message or philosophy interspersed with some very short songs, all overlaid with enough of a comedy element to amuse the audience for ninety minutes.
The first is A Daughter of Albion which sees three characters fishing on a small pier, two Russian men drinking vodka and an English lady who doesn’t understand them and who the men laugh at. It has a silliness to it which is fun to watch and a Waiting for Godot-like quality as the men discuss leaving but never go anywhere. The second story is A Tripping Tongue dealing with a wife who has returned from a trip and tells her husband endless tales of her jaunts and flirtations which start to annoy him. Viktor Aldoshin and Anna Grynchak make the most of their rôles as the unlikely and lonely couple, before the husband tells the audience ‘marry for love or not for love, it’s all the same, marriage is boring.’
Aborigines is the third story set in the house of a working class man who complains about the laziness of his neighbour who has let his much larger piece of land go to ruin. During the conversation, his friend tries to get to another appointment but is frequently detained. Next up is Comic Actor in which a grand actress-ingenue, exaggeratedly well played by Elena Chevronenko, waits for a supposed admirer to tell her he loves her. She lets her imagination run away with her, talking herself into liking him and assuming a grand declaration of love followed by a quick marriage. Finally a part-mime, part-movement, part-acted piece about greed in which three struggling actors find a wallet and overcome by avarice concoct plans to kill each other to gain a greater share of the cash.
Some short Russian songs are placed in between the pieces which are well performed but perhaps not as meaningful as the plays. And there’s a repeated section of a woman singing before what seemed like making excuses to an annoyed wife for receiving presents such as pastries from the other woman’s husband – not really sure what that meant and sometimes the translation wasn’t audible over the sound of the production so crucial things were easy to miss. The set designed by Elena Drobnaya nicely evokes that old music hall feel with a wooden promenade with steps and 19th Century streetlights along the back which helps to set the tone for the vaudeville style of this production. The costumes too are very good at implying class and character.
Life’s Little Nothings is a surprisingly light-hearted romp through Chekhov’s short stories, each cleverly drawn together by the notion that at least one character in the story yearns to be somewhere else. They examine everyday notions such as love, friendship, marriage and betrayal in short thought-provoking segments which work quite nicely as an ensemble. Director Cyrill Kashlikov borrows nicely from English music hall tradition and in doing so finds an innovative way to bring Chekhov’s ideas to new audiences.
Runs until: 15 September