Brian Friel's Fathers and Sons is a 'deeply satisfying mix'
Lyndsey Turner's production starring Seth Numrich, Anthony Calf and Joshua James, opened at the Donmar Warehouse last night
Brian Friel is in many ways the Irish Chekhov, and his artful, absorbing adaptation of Turgenev's 1862 novel – more a transformation, really – has many Chekhovian features … Lyndsey Turner's spring-heeled, beautifully acted production creates a real sense of a new Chekhov play without losing Friel's individual stamp, so that the play's rhythm and melancholy seems entirely new-minted, more so than it did at the National Theatre in 1987 with a cast including Alec McCowen, Lesley Sharp, Ralph Fiennes and Richard Pasco … Friel compresses and alters great swathes of the novel and invents social scenes – and, of course, dialogue – that do not exist in Turgenev … That contrast is echoed in Rob Howell's beautiful design of bare horizontal boards and planks on an angled perspective which create, with James Farncombe's exquisite lighting, a sense of open countryside…
Joshua James... here comes of age. Two years out of drama school, he gives a performance of extraordinary tenderness and detail… Seth Numrich... captures the contradictions of this gifted orator who defies his own principles, and makes him seem an exciting embodiment of the desire to challenge orthodoxy … There are plenty of other appealing performances, with Lyndsey Turner maintaining her fine record as an incisive director of ensembles … Yet aside from James and Numrich it is Karl Johnson who makes the keenest impression... Brian Friel's adaptation takes some liberties with the original Turgenev novel. Yet this is exactly the kind of piece that the Donmar Warehouse does well, and here there's a deeply satisfying mix of soulfulness and elegance.
It is significant that Brian Friel's play is described as "after the novel by Ivan Turgenev". In short, this is no cut-and-paste version of the 1862 Russian masterpiece. It is more a meditation on its main themes and, as Lyndsey Turner's excellent production reveals, is an ensemble piece that yields a rich gallery of performances … You don't get all of Turgenev in this version and, in particular, Bazarov's final, self-sacrificing gesture is rather obliquely presented. But Friel has reminded us that there is more to the book than Bazarov and that Turgenev, while describing a particular moment in Russian history, ultimately stands for the eternal values of love, friendship and unyielding devotion.
…This wonderfully absorbing work brings a large cast of characters to vivid and often comic life, and Friel's play bursts with talk, rows, love and despair. Lyndsey Turner... proves superb at bringing a large cast of characters to vivid and often disputatious life... There is a fine evocative design of seasoned wood and peeling paint by Rob Howell... and the acting is outstanding, with the strong sense of ensemble that Friel's adaptation demands... The American actor Seth Numrich brilliantly captures the impatient radicalism of Bazarov… Joshua James is excellent too as Arkady who hero worships his friend... Anthony Calf proves delightfully funny as Arkady's ineffectual, landowning father … Caoilfhionn Dunne is touching... Tim McMullan gives a richly comic performance as Nikolai's brother… This is a wonderfully rich and absorbing play, and it is hard to imagine it being better staged than it is here…
Advertising agency creatives might call it a ‘homage': veteran Ulster playwright Brian Friel reproduces the rhythms and tone of Chekhov with his lyrical lament Fathers and Sons. Does it matter that the play is so redolent of 19th century Russian master Chekhov? No. Mr Friel gives us much of the satisfaction of a Chekhov – the nostalgia … This Donmar Warehouse production has sumptuous acting. There are no top-rank star names but plenty of quality … Lyndsey Turner's production, framed by planks of wood and richly lit in golds and yellows, could never be accused of moving fast. But I loved its dolefulness which stirs the heart like a jam spoon in a pan of autumn sugar
Having excelled as a Tennessee Williams flaky golden-boy-turned gigolo in Sweet Bird of Youth last year, American actor Seth Numrich returns to the London stage now as the brilliant student nihilist, Bazarov … Lyndsey Turner directs this beautifully orchestrated revival of the Brian Friel adaptation (first seen in 1987) which skilfully refocuses the material … Tim McMullan is exquisitely funny and ineffably sad as Pavel, the snooty old dandy who takes a bitter dislike to Bazarov but turns out to have melancholy reserves of honour and understanding. And Karl Johnson and Lindy Whiteford break your heart as his adoring, semi-comprehending low born parents. Watching the production is like listening to a richly interwoven chamber symphony.