Directed by Plymouth Theatre Royal’s Artistic Director Simon Stokes (formerly Bush Theatre Artistic Director), this is an intense, fast and funny 100 minutes which leaves half the audience wondering why. But then was it not Chekov’s insistence that the role of an artist is to ask questions not to answer them?
With the flimsy premise of Chekov waking in a London hospital almost 100 years after falling into a coma rather than dying in 1904, the bemused patient goes walkabout – finding his way into the most unlikely places and with a great cross section of the contemporary populace.
Before embarking on plays, Chekov wrote short satirical chronicles of Russian life to pay his medical tuition fees and support his family. Chekov in Hell seems to be repeating this with a series of sketches as he stumbles upon a support group, language class, fashionista, interior designers, gangsta rapper, people traffickers, lap-dancers, priests, prostitutes, TV pitchers and the like.
Simon Gregor is superb and believable as the iconic Chekov while Emily Raymond is particularly noteworthy in her deadpan myriad roles alongside her versatile and able accomplices Paul Rider, Jonathan Broadbent, Geoffrey Lumb and Ruth Everett.
Played on Bob Bailey’s simple set on which apposite one-liners are projected to illustrate each vignette, the play progresses in a style reminding us of Chekov as father of the stream of consciousness technique (later adopted by James Joyce) and theatre of mood.
Guns abound, as we are used to in Chekov’s own plays and, in a further unsatisfactory mirror to the great man, there is no real ending leaving loose ends and questions galore.
Interesting, frustrating, quirky and funny.