It's fair to say that Caroline Blakiston's Black Bread and Cucumber is a niche within niche theatre; it is theatre for those not only interested in Chekhov's plays, but for those prepared to listen to a detailed account of a specific type Chekhovian performance. Comprised of narrative pieces and verbatim excerpts, Black Bread and Cucumber is an autobiographical account of Blakiston's experience as the first English woman to play Chekhov in Russia in Russian. As the programme tells us, this "is not a play".
An eminent performer and stalwart of the stage, Blakiston could probably entertain an audience with a story half as interesting as the one she tells in this one-woman show. As she recounts her travels to Russia and her performance of the role of Charlotta in The Cherry Orchard, we meet the actors she worked with, the unhelpful directors, and the strange people on the street. Just as Charlotta, a travelling circus performer, is an outsider in Madam Ranevsky's house, so Blakiston took her time to discover the warm heart of this cold land.
Blakiston's story is compelling and she tells it well, but the form the production takes is less convincing. Much of the sound effects she recorded in Russia are played back via a cumbersome tape recorder with a long wire that she carries around. For a piece that calls on members of the audience to close their eyes in order to really imagine Russia in the winter and its bizarre provincial theatres, the visual elements Blakiston provides are often distractions. The interval in this short piece makes it seem lengthy, and suggests that the radio, rather than the stage, may be the more natural and effective medium through for Blakiston to tell her story.