100% Comedy 100% Chekhov Greenwich Playhouse 04 August 2009

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This evening comprised four short ‘plays by Chekhov’: The Sneeze, The Bear, The Jubilee, and The Wedding, presented by the Black Sun Theatre Company. Of course, Chekhov never wrote a play called ‘ The Sneeze’, so it was an adaptation of the story ‘Death of a Civil Servant’–who by was unclear, as was the identity of the translator. There were about 20 spectators as against four actors, so embarrassment was averted.

In ‘The Sneeze’ David Fensom as Chervyakov did some fearsome overacting, and having all of the action in one time and place rather removed the pathos of the original story. ‘The Bear’ had more overacting (from Trudy Elizabeth Hodgson) and neither she nor David Fensom really gave the impression that they were members of the gentry: part of the humour derives from the elaborately polite way Popova asks Smirnov to explain how to use a pistol, so that she can then kill him in a duel. Then ‘The Jubilee’ concluded the first half of the evening: Elyse Marks seemed to be playing the same character (certainly in the same costume) as she had for Chervyakova, but David Fensom put in a good turn as a man being driven mad by his own failings and the unreasonableness of the world around him, while Trudy Elizabeth Hodgson’s tone of robotic insistence was highly effective here. The photographic stop-motion was effectively used and this one got the most laughs of the evening. But Chekhov’s ending (requiring as it does more than four actors) was omitted, so losing the dying fall (as also in ‘The Sneeze’).

So after the interval the evening concluded with ‘The Wedding’, and four characters playing 12 characters (a few more present in Chekhov were cut entirely). This gave the actors a chance to show what they could do, and the audience a chance to get a bit confused (in fact the cast seemed to lose the plot as to who was who at least once). I’m not sure why the perfectly normal Russian word for cheating/sharp practice was translated by ‘monkeyshines’, which was new to me.

All in all—an amusing evening but one which will have left both those familiar with the works and those unfamiliar puzzled about different things.

The official details are here.

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