Platonov by Anton Chekov, Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg

Time to fess up. I don’t like Chekov. I know, odd way to start a review right? But it’s true, while I love Shakespeare (ya, think?) I hate Chekov. I really can’t sensibly and intelligently say way other than I find his work boring. The loathing that some people have towards Shakespeare, I have for Chekov. It’s completely irrational but I can’t even get through one of his plays without my eyelids drooping towards sleep (I have to say, he’s good for insomnia).

But … this is a production of the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersberg! Do you remember them? International Arts Festival in 1996, a fantastic show that I can’t remember the name of because I didn’t buy a programme and then even if I did I’m on the other side of the world away from it. Yes, that company.

And maybe time for another confession … I actually booked the ticket based on the fact that it was the freakin Maly Drama Company of St Petersberg, I didn’t bother to scroll down and see what they were doing. In fact I bought a flurry of tickets for various shows in the Bite07 programme (including the very excellent Ninagawa Company doing Coriolanus and Ratan Thiyam’s Chorus Repetory Theatre of Manipur … see me squeal with geeky delight, haven’t bought tickets to Cheek By Jowl’s Cymbeline yet because they’re a bit out of my budget – once I’m earning £s I may reconsider) that it was only a couple hours later that I bothered to find out exactly what they were doing … An obscure Chekov which was about 3 hours long.

So I rationalised what could potentially be a torturous evening as this: I only know Chekov from English translations of the work, maybe every single English translation is shit and maybe every production I’ve seen of it has put me to sleep because for some reason it arrived on stage as filtered by someone who thinks that Chekov should be played as if we’re in an drawing room in a nameless estate in England at the start of the 20th Century. And hey, I didn’t have to worry about the words putting me to sleep because the it was all in Russian anyway.

I actually enjoyed it and I didn’t even notice the time pass. And as much as it was melancholic, the production was largely irreverent and funny. There was such energy in the production, you could almost feel the hot summer madness, the show of extravagance juxtaposed with the reality of poverty (but not in a heavy ironic way, this irony was much lighter the characters did not carry it around as a burden but rather remained “normal” with the most sparing of glimpses, so fleeting that they were easy to miss, indicating that there was anything wrong.

The set was awesome – four levels spread across the stage of the Barbican. You had a upper balcony level, on which there was a shower, piano and drum kit. A normal stage level. Underneath that a water level – the river which the actors would dive into, swim off stage and swim on, and then at the apron a sandy promenade where most of the action between protagonists would take place.

The language? Well obviously I had to read surtitles above the stage but on sound alone, the actors sounded passionate, the text lively and natural, but what would I know, I can’t speak Russian.

The scenes, as to be expected were wonderfully blocked. While the main action took place on the apron, along the other characters were dancing the night away as real brass band accompanied them. Much of what was being said on the apron would be either juxtaposed or illustrated by what was happening (rather loudly) behind them. Best of all there was naturalism with fantastic symbolism going on, again elegant and subtle so that you weren’t left with the feeling of ‘this is important, see this prop, it’s important, see what I’m doing here, take note because it will be important later’ – you know what I’m talking about.

Oh and the ending, the ending! Well that one I may keep to myself so if you know anyone at the International Festival, maybe suggest that they bring this production over for 2008?

Now that I think about it, it was a fantastic production so yes, I willing to put an end to my irrational hate of Chekov, but only if it’s going to be in Russian.


One Response to “Platonov by Anton Chekov, Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg”

  1. Walter Ruth Says:

    I also saw this fantastic production at MDT and totally agree. And today at Stockholm City Theatre, Sweden I saw another lovely fourandahalf hour long version of this masterpiece by Chekhov.

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