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Chekhov's Shorts (tour – Ipswich)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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My translation of Chekhov’s plays (in the old Penguin Classics series) refers to two of the one-actors given in European Arts portmanteau of Chekhov’s Shorts as "jests". In fact, it’s a very good description for all five playlets. Using Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition as incidental music, these are comic snapshots of Russian provincial life in the late 19th century. This new spring tour is a revival of the 2006-07 productions.

One actor transforms himself almost before our eyes from hen- and chicken-pecked husband Nyukhin rabbiting on about the miseries of his home life under the guise of a lecture on the evils of tobacco to a Firs-like manservant to an actor whose final benefit performance has closed the curtains on much more than a career to a landowner desperate to marry off a daughter who’s more than just a chip from the paternal block.

Another is in turns an army officer whose relationship with the local matchmaker is (shall we say) a trifle ambiguous?, a landowner in urgent need of the money owed him by a deceased creditor, a sad little theatre prompter and the neighbour whose wooing is bedevilled by disputes over the ownership of a meadow and the merits (or otherwise) of two dogs.

The matchmaker, the not-so gay widow getting her own back and the be-spectacled practical girl who’s not quite the demure, self-effacing fiancée her hypochondriac suitor has envisaged are equally enjoyable portraits which teeter on the verge of caricature but retain the ssence of humanity to make thenm three- rather than two-dimensional.

It is Vivienne Rowdon who has most of the audience on her side, but Richard Latham runs her a close second in the older roles, breasting the comedy tape just inches ahead of John O’Connor. The latter contrasts his three men in search of something – or someone – with the prompter who has heard it all (or most of it) before. [Jonathan Kemp’s direction keeps the verbal and physical jokes spinning within the deceptively simple fit-up settings which are a feature of the company’s work.


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