Journeying to a bygone age, filled with comical farce and absurdly exuberant characters was just what the doctor ordered tonight. Studio Theatre Club’s Pieces of Chekhov delivers five perfectly bite-sized, explosively flavourful canapés of humour from the masterful pen of Anton Chekhov, serving as much needed respite from reality. Choosing to stage five punchy, isolated one act plays offers a change of pace from many theatrical outings, making for a light, fun and easy evening.
STC kicked off with The Proposal, a joyously quirky rendition of pointless one-upmanship between Lomov (the proposer), Natalya (the proposee) and Chubukov (her father). Jack Brougham brings genuine agitated neuroses and lively displays of hypochondria to Lomov, while Sreya Rao’s Natalya is forthrightly measured with truly brilliant expressions. Mike MacDonald as Chubukov adds a sprinkle of bumbling frustration to the bizarrely botched proceedings.
The Celebration followed: in which we meet a bank manager (Shipuchina) and her overworked secretary (Khirina) on the 15th anniversary of the banks founding, a special day which is interrupted by Shipuchina’s husband, Fyodor; an unrelenting customer (Merchutkina) and the shareholders. In a refreshing twist on the original text, Shipuchina and Khirina are successful businesswomen, rather than men; while Fyodor appears as a ditzy, dithering ‘kept’ husband. Khirina is realised by Holly Bathie, conveying her mounting frustration, and shortening fuse brilliantly, often without words. Anna Wilson reflects the weight of responsibility and expectation on Shipuchina’s shoulders, coupled with an innate ability to delegate, regardless of the appropriateness! Jamie Mortimer as her husband seemingly parries his inane prattle against her abject lack of interest, which both actors express with skill. Kath Leighton is also unwaveringly belligerent as Merchutkina, backing up the supposedly obvious absurdity with a dash of realism.
The first half draws to a close with The Unwilling Martyr, the monologue of Tolkachov, a melodramatic, brow beaten family man, relayed to his wholly uninterested friend, Murashkin. This was arguably the funniest of tonight’s shorts, Matt Kirk brought an incessant physicality to the role of Tolkachov, which was both utterly engaging and timed to perfection. Ben Winters as Murashkin acted as the ideal antithesis to Kirk’s onslaught, with deliberately placed expressions and the occasional unsympathetic comment.
The Wedding opened the second half of the evening’s entertainment, this was the largest of the ensemble cast pieces in which a wedding party has gathered to celebrate the nuptials of Dashenka (bride) and Aplombov (groom). Nunina, one of the guests, has been despatched with 25 roubles to seek out a general who is willing to attend and entertain the guests, but instead returns with a retired captain, intent on regaling the party with unintelligibly specific naval facts. Highlights here are Jon Shepherd (as Zhigalov, father of the bride) who rapidly descends into a wine fuelled stupor; egging on Dimba (played by Francesca Richards) a perpetually dour Greek confectioner obsessed with her homeland. Nastasya (the mother of the bride) comes across as suitably commanding and stressed in the hands of Rhona Mackenwells, contrasting with Zmeyunkina, an extravagant wedding guest amusingly acted by Michelle Chew. Stephen Briggs as Revunov, the retired captain, is deftly deafly oblivious, charmingly eccentric, and yet simultaneously marvellously maddening.
The Bear is the final skit, a weird window into the life of Popovna, a young widow who is determined to mourn her lost love until the day she herself dies (while dressed in almost identical garb to Queen Victoria following the death of Albert). Her loyal servant, Vera, tries to persuade her to venture out into the world before she loses her looks, but it is the irresistibly unwanted attentions of Smirnov, one of Popovna’s late husband’s creditors that plays a hand in her ultimate fate. Elena Mortimer truly shines as Popovna, relishing in melancholy, rage, and tenderness alike. Charlie Vicary demonstrates mercurial desire, and the impressionable nature of Smirnov, endlessly certain in his uncertainty.
Although each of the five plays are distinct, there are features connecting the escapades; costumes are helpfully unobtrusive, and director Dan Booth chivvies us along through the utilisation of a simple set, with all items swiftly repurposed and repositioned from scene to scene. A literal visualisation of “Chekhov’s gun”; the belief that all parts of a narrative be necessary and irreplaceable, with extraneous elements removed. Needless to say; there’s no guff in any element of this production, just a whole host of delightfully deliberate babble to absorb and enjoy. Tickets are available on the door for the rest of the week, or you can book online now - you’d be mad to miss it!