You'd never have guessed there was so much mileage to it. So many far-reaching depths to probe. So much endless space to explore. Not Chekhov's play, by God, but the extraordinary length of stage exposed at the Almeida King's Cross for David Hare's rejigged Platonov.
So far back into King's Cross does the set seem to reach, that you half-anticipate the 7.30 from Leeds to come crashing through the backdrop. Indeed trains and their tracks, appropriately, remain central to Paul Brown's extraordinary design. Initially the rails remain submerged below a stream which runs through the bourgeois garden setting, with a throng of sunflowers bobbing like attendant courtiers.
Platonov is Chekhov's earliest work, and Hare acknowledges that its value remains historic above its literary merits. The central character Mikhail Platonov, is made known to us before his entrance: "He is like the hero of a Russian novel, and as you know Russian novels are the worst in the world," comments one of the assembled, at an indiscriminate summer party.
Platonov arrives in the form of a slick Aidan Gillen. Hair dyed black as pitch, and thickly spiked with gel, he launches tirades against his dead father, most of the gathered guests and reserves his prickliest barbs for the women. His aphorisms refuse to be drowned by choruses of protest, as one snarling seduction follows another.
Hare has trimmed over three hours off the original script, but might wisely have whittled down the characters too. With over 15 on stage at any one time, most are left unexplored and unexplained. Token early Chekhov emblems of the Jew, the radical student and immoral peasant ultimately offer little comment on Platonov himself, whose dominant presence may not have been Chekhov's real intent.
Nor do we really get to the guts of Platonov's eternal gripe with the world about him. He possesses the poet's soul laid low by a realist's complacency. He is the persecuted as persecutor. What is it, we ponder, that all these beautiful women admire in him? His shallow loathings of their attentions, his philosophies concerning ill-fated attractions? He steals kisses like a thief spoilt for choice whilst maintaining a cultivated air of Byronic mystery, and mastery.
A finer company you won't see assembled for some time though, featuring Frances Grey's derided Sasha and the exasperated wit of Adrian Scarborough's Nikolai. Hare's script is pure Cotswold vowels in Bolshevik costume, although his extensive cast wanders through the first half like tourists lost in a garden maze. Part two, pared down to the essentials, sears with a finer sense of the latent farce which Hare has teased out.
Not greatly likeable for all their rage and theories, the play's individuals never offer much of a Russian revelation. Their souls are too trapped in traditionalism to soar like the heady brew of Platonov's stricken messiah. Rather a cocktail of icy spirits - shaken and stirred upon life's rocks.