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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Hampstead Theatre Spring 2013

Novelist William Boyd has fashioned a 'new' Chekhov play out of two Chekhov short stories. Because the sources are inevitably slight, the result doesn't have the depth and resonances of Chekhov's own great plays. But as a study in the small absurdities and small tragedies of small people, it comes quite close close enough to make for a quietly satisfying evening. 

The two stories are arbitrarily thrust together by setting them in the same place, so the play's focus shifts back and forth between them. But they do have parallels that bounce off each other nicely. 

One recalls The Cherry Orchard, as a family is about to lose their estate through unpaid mortgages. They turn to an old friend, hoping that he will not only find a financial solution but also fulfil the romantic hopes of one or another of the women.

In the second story a young man from a professional family yearns for the honest work of a labourer, but is drawn into bourgeois marriage to the vulgar daughter of a rich merchant. 

One of the men will stay and one will escape, and neither one nor anyone around them will live happily ever after. 

What Boyd's play captures beautifully is the Chekhovian vision of people not in control of their own lives, yearning for something but unable to achieve it or in some cases even reach toward it, a vision that can shift from black comedy to pathos and back in an instant.

If there's something missing, it is the quality that makes Chekhov's own plays so richly textured, the sense that the main characters have been chosen almost arbitrarily and that everyone onstage is the hero or heroine of a drama that could be a play in itself if the focus were shifted. 

Nina Raine directs with exquisite delicacy and Tamsin Greig and Iain Glen lead a uniformly excellent cast.

Gerald Berkowitz

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