It’s a rarely performed play, Chekhov’s Platonov, in part because Chekhov’s own version would take around five hours to perform, although with a similar running time to both parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child perhaps there is space for a (near) full-length production at some point. David Hare’s adaptation, running at 2 hours 45 minutes including interval, played at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2015, and then appeared at the National Theatre as part of their Young Chekhov season. This adaptation by Gavin McAlinden is even shorter, at 2 hours 20 minutes, with just enough set to give the impression of an opulent residence that plays host to a garden party.
A comparison within the play itself between Platonov (Jared C Denner) and Hamlet, and a cutting description of him as ‘a bully’ are pretty much on the ball, as are repeated protestations about what his miscellaneous female suitors see in him. Sometimes such complaints come from the suitors themselves. An initially enigmatic figure – spoken about but not immediately present on stage – he is married to Sasha (Angela Creighton) but has three others (and possibly more) who lust after him. Gradually he is unable to keep up with all of their demands, as well as those of his friends, at least one of whom is himself married to one of Platonov’s courtiers, and turns, slightly predictably, to the bottle.
The comedy value in this production is somewhat hampered by two factors. Firstly, the nature of the frantic and sudden ending meant the show left me with a bittersweet aftertaste. Secondly, there could have, overall, have been a slightly greater dosage of ‘playing to the gallery’. While the subtle and conversational delivery style here is naturalistic, and thus credible, it’s Alan Kenny’s Sherbuk that provides the sort of moderately hammed up performance that, replicated more widely, would have really set the production on fire.
The first half plods along amiably enough, but it is in the second that the production becomes riveting, as though the company had the equivalent of a half-time team talk from a football manager and went out for the second half inspired and rejuvenated. The staging is noticeably very good: a group of people would not ordinarily sit at a garden party all facing the same way. It’s as artificial a seating arrangement as the one in Leonardo da Vinci’s painting ‘The Last Supper’, with everyone sat on one side – here, the audience is able to see each character’s posture and facial expressions. It’s astonishing how many shows there are out there that don’t have this basic principle bedded down.
It’s the love quadrangle and its messy consequences that’s emphasised here, rather than the political and social context, although what certain people are prepared to do for just a few Russian roubles is quite telling. Whoever thought being revered would be so difficult? Denner’s Platonov elicits some sympathy from the audience, even in his decadence and obtuseness. Far from wanting to grab Chekhov’s gun and apply it to my own temple, this surprisingly witty production is more like F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby than the drunk, dark and depressing nature of so many of Chekhov’s works. A curious and appealing play.
Review by Chris Omaweng
By Anton Chekhov
Adapted and directed by Gavin McAlinden
A new adaptation of the rarely see classic by Chekhov.
Provincial schoolmaster Mikhail Platonov has one very pressing problem – he is absolutely irresistible to women. Decadent, louche, sexy and swimming in alcohol. This is Chekhov like you’ve never seen before.
Jared C Denner
Juan Carlos Navas