Chekhov: a man considered to be one of the greatest playwrights in history. Much like Shakespeare, Chekhov’s works are world-renowned and have been translated into many languages over the last century. From an actor’s perspective, Chekhov’s works can be extremely challenging due to the specific style entwined in the writing, very different from those styles used in modern theatre today. When seeing the title Bitesize Chekhov, I was intrigued to see how the layout would work for this. But true to their word, D’Animate showed two extracts of approximately 20-30 minutes from some of his works, which were manageable and easy to follow and, despite the complexity of the writing, were delivered with clarity and grace.
The performance was in the Courtyard Theatre, a small theatre with a mysterious exterior which is tucked away. However, in the performance space, which was apparently the smaller of the two available, is a relatively large stage with ample seating. It’s a great venue for fringe productions as I can imagine it allows a lot of versatility with the large stage layout and an opportunity for many supporters.
A cast of three performed the two bitesized performances, with use of multi-rolling between them. Michael Rivers not only performed in the piece, but directed it and founded the company. This often makes me a little sceptical, as it can be risky having direction from an interior player, but I have to say that I really enjoyed the direction of the piece. The thing that probably intrigued me the most was the vocal qualities and tones used by the actors, causing many moments of humour, intensity, and all around, a complete level of understanding of the characters. The only section I found that was not quite as fitting was the lyrical dance involved in the second piece; I understood the intention but the actors did look just a touch uncomfortable.
Another feature of having a cast of three means that there is a large amount of exposure to all the actors. Luckily, the three were all extremely strong in very different ways. Rivers bursts onto the set as a ball of energy, with bags of stage presence. His portrayal of Gregory Smirnov was incredibly interesting to watch, as was his character Ivan Vassilyevich, and he added humour at clever and appropriate moments. Will Mytum played timid Luka but transformed in the second performance. He plays the older characters very well, with believability and a gentle quality. I would love to see him in other productions playing parts within his age range to see how he plays this. He gave one of the best performances of a Shakespeare speech I have seen in a while, and I really felt for the character as he commented on his old age. Hastings, being the only female in the cast, has a lot to live up to. She demonstrated two very contrasting roles, from the weeping widow to a ballsy daughter. I really enjoyed seeing her versatility, although I wanted to see a little more dramatisation when she was pretending to weep for her dead husband. As this is the first thing we see, I would love for the tone to be set at a high level, with her really playing up to the fact that she is pretending to mourn. Saying this, her performances were extremely enjoyable.
The cast did extremely well considering a relatively low audience turn out. This didn’t seem to phase the actors at all and they still gave three very strong performances, causing the audience to laugh out loud regularly. With such talent as this, it’s a production that really deserves to be supported. The company shows their understanding of specific styles in a very unique and appealing way, and I hope that many more people get the pleasure of experiencing the talent they have to provide in the rest of the run.
Bitesize Chekhov is playing at the Courtyard Theatre until 11 July. For more information and tickets, see the Courtyard Theatre website.