Now that gay marriage is legal in the UK, while in Russia matters only seem to get worse, the Hen and Chickens this week presents a double bill inspired by these developments. One is To Be a Wife, a new play by Tilly Lunken about a triangle of love played out three times, each a hundred years apart. The Proposal is a (very) free adaptation of Chekhov’s farce, in which the date is 2114 but the silly discussions that prevent Ivana (Cam Spence) from asking Natalya (Alice K Brown) to wed are still about good old-fashioned landownership and which hunting dog has the better physique.
In To Be a Wife, Tessa Hart directs Lunken’s vision of the decline in heteronormative values through the ages in a completely empty space. Roddy (Michael Bagwell) is gay, but in 1814 finds himself in a marriage of convenience with Iris (Abigail Morgan), who in turn is really in love with Bel (Stephanie Lodge). A century later, it is Bel who marries Roddy to cover up her relationship with Iris (things have moved on for the better ever so slightly). In 2014, finally the two women can marry and Roddy does not have to pretend anymore. While the story might be a bit flat, the half-hour play is entertaining and cleverly sets the tone for each century in dress, speech and communication methods. The drama, however, is pretty much absent as instead of crises to battle and overcome, each character basically sighs and gets on with it to support the larger frame of the writing (spanning three hundred years).
The second half of the quick hour is a radical rewrite of The Proposal in which the absurdism is perhaps taken slightly over the edge as the central marvel of a woman wanting to marry another is left completely out of shot. We are in Russia, it is 2114, and luckily same-sex marriage is now absolutely normal – leaving no room for director Joe Allan but to jump straight into the farcical arguments Ivana and Natalya get caught up in. Natalya’s father Stepan (Rus Kallan) only adds to the hysterics by jumping around exasperated. It is all a bit tiresome, and many of the jokes do not make it across to the audience properly. Starting with a relatively lengthy succession of radio excerpts describing the state or Russia in the century to come works, but creates expectations that are not entirely matched by what follows.
The Proposal/To Be a Wife is a healthy dose of fringe theatre with a theme if you are willing to part with your all-too critical hat for an hour.
The Proposal/To Be a Wife will be at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until 11 October. For more information and tickets, see the Hen and Chickens website.