Review: Love in a Nutshell, The Cockpit Theatre

In Xameleon’s adaptation of an array of Anton Chekov’s short stories, you’ll be whisked into two hours of unequivocally sterling storytelling. In a Nutshell is entirely performed in Russian with subtitles in the background, which may seem like an initial turn-off. Many individuals may be reluctant to attend a performance due to its language which aggravates me beyond belief considering the excellence contained within this show. One is so captivated by the action that the boundaries of language dissipate as these performers charm their way through the show. 

This performance runs episodically, with each tale encapsulating a unique and vibrant moment. The stories include, ‘Love,’ and ‘The Witch’. Chekhov is often humorous with darker undertones, and the adaptations succinctly grow from the text, elevating the comedic potential. The performance’s short tales erupt at their edges, bursting with convincing relationships and emotional passion. You’re washed over in this show’s magnificence, each scene a wave of mesmeric performance. I hand it to Dmitry Turchaninov for their flawless stylistic choices.

The performers multi-role with consistent neatness, altering their voices with distinct clarity. The stellar physicality is executed with such precision that it is impossible not to be wholeheartedly convinced that there is a fly buzzing around a character, or that a coat stand is in actuality a water pump. Even the more static scenes run fluidly with captivating gesture and pristine vocal delivery. The physical comedy is expert level. The performers trip over nothing in perfection. They slap one another with claps and wholehearted commitment to grunts and turns. The work here is impeccable.

One fascinating aspect of this show is the manner in which the actors interact with the elements. An actor jumps through a fishing hole in a frozen lake and we follow his transition as he dives into the underwater. White bean bags become snowballs and shimmering fabric lakes are so compelling it is impossible to draw away one’s eyes as the actors rise up and gasp for air. The way they wring the water from their hats or shake their faces in the rain is beautiful. The attention to detail here is remarkable beyond belief.

If the piece had a more refined overarching aesthetic, it may be cleaner. However the costumes serve the timescale and each prop is functional in its presence. Minimalism thrives visually when unified with a colour palette or select textiles, and I imagine the set may have been more pleasing with these details in mind. Regardless, this did not by any means subtract from the quality of the performance on a structural level.

This is an absolutely splendid piece of work and it frustrates me beyond belief that some audiences may reject it instantaneously at the initial mention of subtitles.

Love in a Nutshell is playing at the Cockpit Theatre until 13 March. For more information and tickets, see the Cockpit Theatre website.