Whilst not exactly 100% funny, this collection of four short plays presented by BlackSun doesn’t fall too short of the mark, and provides an enjoyable contrast to the more intense drama commonly associated with Chekhov’s writing.
The four plays brought together for 100% Comedy, 100% Chekhov -The Sneeze, The Bear, The Jubilee and The Wedding - flow well together with the aid of Laura Bateman’s stage design, which situates the comedies very firmly in the period in which they were written. A plot synopsis would diminish the humour of these pieces; suffice to say that they touch upon some of the deeper issues that Chekhov explores in his later writing, such as family dynamics, the aristocracy and gender roles. That said, they are all essentially comic in nature. While the humour is dated and less amusing by contemporary standards (admittedly the point of situating the comedies in their original period) there is a lot here that remains good.
The performances are commendable. David Fensom and Toby Eddington both do very well to portray so many diverse characters and Elyse Marks also deserves praise, particularly for her role in The Jubilee. Trudy Elizabeth Hodgson, who appears in all four plays, necessitates an altogether different analysis. Whilst Chekhov’s writing does endorse pomposity, farce and over-playing, it is difficult to know whether Hodgson’s performance is a deliberate act encouraged by director Jemma Gross, or whether Hodgson is simply over-acting in the extreme. Fortunately Hodgson’s curious approach adds value to this performance, but it is questionable whether this was intended.
Overall this collection works well and there are laughs to be had. However it is debatable whether four people can adequately perform The Wedding when the cast originally calls for 12. Certainly much of the humour derives from the confusion implicit in having each actor play multiple characters, but dialogue and meaning is also lost, leading to a distortion of the text.
It is refreshing to see a production of Chekhov’s work that focuses on his short comedies, and although 100% Comedy, 100% Chekhov is unlikely to have you in stitches, it is still worth a viewing.