Review: YOUNG CHEKHOV TRILOGY at the National Theatre, Olivier

A whole day of Chekhov plays may sound boring to some but to me, it's a marathon that I was very excited to run; as soon as I got word of these three new adaptations by David Hare making their way up to London from Chichester, I was immediately excited and intrigued to see what the Plenty and Skylight scribe had done to make these shows much more accessible for a modern audience.

While the day did drag at times and one of the plays was a lot more tedious than the other two, it was an enjoyable day nonetheless and I can't imagine seeing the trilogy in any other way than seeing them all in the same day. There was an added element of familiarity and intrigue when seeing actors take on different roles in each of the plays one after the other and there was certainly an element of community when you began to make friends with those around you throughout the day. If you don't fancy taking all three shows on in one day though then never fear, because they can easily all stand alone as well, just like how I'm about to review them.
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PLATONOV

Despite being the most under-performed of the three plays, Platonov is undeniably the most farcical and enjoyable of the three. The play is believed to be Chekhov's earliest work and while not all of the original script exists, the intentions of the original story are implied in this production. The story follows a circle of friends in 19th century Russia who are all affected in different ways by their mutual friend Mikhail Platonov; he manages to have two different love affairs behind his pregnant wife's back as well as mess around with the friendships he holds with the men in the group and while the story seems funny at first, tragedy strikes by the end. It was gripping and while it seemed highly predictable at times, I didn't feel in any way underwhelmed when the inevitable happened. 

The cast were superb as well: Nina Sosanya took on the role of Anna Petrovna with perfection and embodied a woman of power and grace - despite her blatant lack of integrity - beautifully. She was a character that I fell in love with regardless of her many flaws; she was the star of the show in my eyes. James McArdle also made a wonderful turn as Platonov as well and managed to make him a man that I felt for, even though he was holding down three different romantic affairs all at the same time. He was funny and witty even in the darkest of moments and it was delightful to see him play around with both Nina as Anna (pictured above) and the adorable and hilarious Sarah Twomey as Maria whenever they had a fun scene together.

The design of the show is what mesmerised me the most, though. The stage of the Olivier is massive to begin with, but Tom Pye has managed to craft a set that turns a large stage into a vast expanse. Equipped with a house, a stream, a forest, a lawn, a lake, a bridge and an additional woodland area for actors to perform in (as pictured at the top of this article), it's mind-blowing. Mark Henderson has also done a fantastic job in the mammoth task of lighting this incredible stage design - as he always does so expertly - and the undeniably fantastic Jonathan Kent has directed this large ensemble in a way that utilises the space without exploiting it all too obviously. The team of the three of them is spectacular and they turn this already fantastic farce into gold.

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IVANOV


Considering the trilogy opened so impressively, it was inevitable that the middle show would end up falling short of the mark and that's exactly was Ivanov did. A relatively well-known one of Chekhov's plays has returned to the National in a production that boasts this slow and laborious piece of self-pity theatre as something that is much more than it is. Everything about this show feels too big: the set, the performances, the costumes... If you want to see blood be drawn from a stone, this is where you're unfortunately going to find it; you can't make something out of nothing.

A vague continuation from Platonov, Ivanov looks at the end of Anna's life after she has moved from where she was before with her new husband Nikolai Ivanov. Eventually, Anna passes not too long into the first act and Nikolai - a failing artist - takes it upon himself to find love in someone else, but he can't seem to shake his self-pity for everything that he is doing. It's pretty dull if I'm going to be totally honest and because there is absolutely no B-plot whatsoever, you're forced to endure a story where you're being asked to sympathise with one of the most irritating men in theatrical history. It's hard to feel pity for a man who has been cheating on his wife who has TB.

The performances felt rather forced as well, which was a shame because a good performance in my eyes can save any sort of bad writing. Geoffrey Streatfeild took on the role of Ivanov and everything about him felt exaggerated and even more irritating that it was supposed to be and it wasn't until I saw Streatfeild later in the evening in The Seagull that I realised it was all supposed to be an artistic choice. Olivia Vinall played the adultress of the piece Sasha who, despite all of the might in the world, never felt like she had more to her than simply being a man's love affair. She's a weak character and Vinall's performance highlighted that in all the wrong ways and it made me feel even less sympathy for the characters at the centre of this play.

The design of the play was similar to that of Platonov before it as the set is just re-purposed and changed slightly for each one of the plays, but the majority of this piece took place inside a grand hall which looked and felt like a 21st century attempt at being shabby chic, but it turned out to be gothic and tacky. Nothing about it was aesthetically pleasing and it all-in-all just added to the poor experience. If I were going to see these plays separately, I'd avoid this one like the plague.

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THE SEAGULL


The Seagull is one of Chekhov's most celebrated and popular works and this new production highlights that beautifully. With some of the most enjoyable and convincing performances of the day, it's a perfect way to end the trilogy and it's proof that this play is truly timeless. Despite being set in a mid-19th century Russian winter, it has much more of a homely feel to it than you'd expect: think The Mousetrap kind of set-up for the second act. The play follows a boy named Konstantin who finally tries to impress his mother (a famous actress) and her friends by writing a play that will be performed on the lake outside their home. He casts his love Nina as the lead in the play and after being heckled by his family and friends, he storms off. The rest of the play follows their rise and fall, fuelled with teenage angst and hatred that flows well into their adulthood; it highlights just how little the adults around him change. It's a fascinating look at how a child's desire to be noticed can take everyone to the edge of the cliff and back again and it was thoroughly enjoyable throughout.

Anna Chancellor gives the performance of the trilogy as Konstantin's self-absorbed mother Irina and it's wonderful to see a role that is so much more than someone's mother, but a character in her own right as well. She is sassy, she is hilarious and she is dislikable all when you want her to be and she is mesmerising every time she steps foot on that stage. Debra Gillett also makes a wonderful turn as Irina's friend Polina and is the warming and loving nature that you need to see in this piece to understand what Konstantin is craving, Speaking of Konstantin, Joshua James gives a wonderful and convinving performance, which is nice to see considering his character in Platonov was the only one I disliked in that play.

Again, the design of the piece was very similar to the other two plays in the day, but the lake is extended instead of having the main woodland area. It's stunning to look at and is such a convincing set-up when they use it the way that they do - the set is almost worth the entire ticket price on its own. This new production of The Seagull is fantastic and I loved every moment of it; it's classic for a reason.


Tickets for the Young Chekhov Trilogy can be purchased here. The final few three-show days are sold out apart from a few £140 tickets. but you could try your hand at the Friday Rush. If you'd like to book to see the plays separately, try the National Theatre's What's On page.

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