The summer programme at the Stephen Joseph Theatre is a masterly cat’s cradle of different productions interlocking in such a way as to provide maximum variety for the discriminating holiday-maker. A key element is the production of two simply-staged small-cast one-acts in the McCarthy Theatre with single performances during the day and a double-bill on evenings. The Yalta Game and Elegy for a Lady are excellent choices for the lunch-time performances: involving, thought-provoking, but not too heavy. As a full evening’s entertainment they are elegant, stylish and still thought-provoking, but maybe a touch slight.
The Yalta Game chimes pleasingly with the new Ayckbourn version of Uncle Vanya, premiering next week. Brian Friel’s adaptation of Chekhov’s short story, Lady with a Little Dog, preserves the original’s ambiguity of moral attitude and its unresolved ending, while smoothing out the story-line and playing up the entertainment value of the central character, Dmitry, with clever use of witty monologues. Dimitry is an imaginative and fanciful observer of the Yalta scene (Yalta the finest resort in the Crimea) who seduces a newcomer, Anna, and begins a relationship neither of them can resolve or forgo. John Elkington, with an air of the middle-aged Peter Ustinov, is engagingly eccentric and often very funny and Jennifer Rhodes conveys Anna’s dilemmas convincingly.
Elegy for a Lady by Arthur Miller dates from 1982 when the fires of inspiration were generally burning low for Miller, but he could certainly craft a thoughtful piece of work. In another example of shrewd planning it shares themes with The Yalta Game without being remotely similar in tone or plot. Both deal with the ending or non-ending of relationships that are left partially unexplored. In the Miller play a man goes into a boutique seeking a present for someone who is dying, his much younger lover, as it appears. The play is a duologue with the Proprietress, exposing his lack of knowledge of his lover and her illness and placing the Proprietress in that role from time to time. It’s a cool and economical work, coolly and economically staged, with John Elkington nicely perplexed and Jennifer Rhodes suitably mannered.