“Across all elements, there were moments that were wonderful throughout”
Xameleon Theatre presented an evening of nine short plays by Chekhov. The direction of the production (Dmitry Turchaninov) neatly linked each play to a theme of water; the set design (also by Turchaninov) emulated this by consisting of either a piece of blue squared silk laid on the floor in the first act, or white in the second, representing the different seasons. The play was entirely in Russian, with surtitles projected onto the back wall of the theatre (a note is given to those that do not speak Russian to sit in clear view of the surtitles at the beginning of the performance).
Turchaninov used this linking theme of water in order to transition between each separate story; different characters would approach the water and the narrator (Chekhov), performed by both Oleg Sidorchik and Vadim Bogdanov would announce the new setting. Whilst this was clear on occasion, Turchanivov’s decision to have two narrators was confusing, as this, alongside the rest of the cast, who were all also multirolling meant that it wasn’t quite clear when one story ended and another began; especially as on occasion stories would overlap for humour. This might have worked had the show been in English, but with an audience trying to decipher all of this at once, and it not be in English, it was challenging.
Standout performances were given by Irina Kara, as she portrayed a matchmaker who intended to set up a 50 year old man, Stychkin (Oleg Hill) who had very specific tastes despite insisting he was easy going. As they drank vodka on stage her notably odd laugh became more prominent, pulling a great deal of humour from the piece. However, despite being drunk, Kara managed to pull a poignancy out of her character when she matches herself with her co-protagonist.
Despite some performances being strong, the style of the production was confusing. In the final story, Ivan Vassilevich Lomov (Vadim Bogdanov) goes to propose to Natalia Stepanovna (Vlada Lemeshevska), who he cannot seem to stop arguing with. This piece bordered on an absurdist farce which, if emulated across the entire production, would have been a clear intention and might have been brilliant. However, it was disorientating to suddenly deliver an absurdist piece, with the other pieces being far more typically Chekhovian.
However, there was a flash of brilliance in a story about a pair ice-fishing, who don’t speak the same language and are increasingly frustrated with one another. A build up of tension and humour is developed before this suddenly ceased as Gryabov (Oleg Hill) jumps into the icy water. At this moment, the white silk sheet was lifted above Gryabov’s head and he was seen to be struggling in the cold water. In this moment Yuri Galkin’s lighting and sound design worked magic, allowing the whole atmosphere to go cold as the theatre was plummeted into a hazy blue and the sound of someone under water banging on the ice above played. This design alongside Turchaninov’s direction was beautifully realised.
Across all elements, there were moments that were wonderful throughout Love in a Nutshell, however an overall inconsistency of style and a confused layout made the production hard to follow.
“a timely revival of Euripides’ classic play, and modern audiences will find much to think about in this drama”
Iphigenia in Aulis is not really about the doomed eldest daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra—it is about the jockeying for fame and power of the men who surround her. It is Euripides’ complex, ironic look at how families break down when men are willing to sacrifice the people they love most to win the spoils of war. This production in a translation by Philip Vellacott, and presented by Performance Anxiety and the Voila! Festival at the Cockpit Theatre, is a brave effort for such a challenging and morally problematic drama.
The plot hinges on the dilemmas facing Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek Army, as he faces off against rivals, including his brother Menelaus, to maintain his grip on power. Marooned in Aulis, and needing favourable winds to proceed to Troy, the priest Calchas tells Agamemnon that he has offended the goddess Artemis, and that he must sacrifice his eldest daughter (and favourite child) Iphigenia, to win her forgiveness. Agamemnon, having sent a message to his wife and child to summon them to Aulis on the pretext of a marriage to Achilles—is now having second thoughts. He hastily sends a second message to Clytemnestra, telling her to ignore his first message, and naturally, as in all good tragedies, the message never reaches the intended recipient. Now he has to face his daughter, his wife, and Achilles, who decides that his honour has been attacked, and that he must protect his “bride”. The weak and vacillating Agamemnon eventually decides that he can’t afford to back down. The results are predictable.
This production, co-directed by Lee Anderson and Dean Elliott, is a stripped down, modern dress version of this classic. The direction is competent, though misses opportunities to create intimacy and so raise the stakes between the characters in the large space on stage at the Cockpit. Agamemnon, (a rather muted performance by Dean Elliott) blows this way and that as the pressure to make a decision increases. But the scenes between him and his brother Menelaus, (an empathetic portrayal by Christopher Adams that adds depth to a character mainly known for losing his wife to Paris) are nicely judged with moments of humour. Hannah Wilder, who plays Iphigenia, wisely chooses to focus on the more relatable parts of her character—seeing the breakdown of her parents’ marriage with shock and horror, and trying to play the good daughter while protecting her baby brother Orestes from the family fallout. It is left to Clytemnestra (a commanding performance in a difficult role by Emma Wilkinson Wright) to try and guilt Agamemnon into changing his mind and sparing their daughter. Clever enough to realize that guilt alone is unlikely to change Agamemnon’s mind, she has prepared her ground carefully by telling Iphigenia of her father’s real plans for her, and ensuring that Achilles will add his arguments to hers. Joey Ellis, who plays Achilles, comes closest to creating a fully rounded character in this demanding play. He manages the transition well between self absorbed warrior thinking only of his honour, and a man sensitive enough to realize the value of his bride. His performance adds just the right amount of ironic regret as the adults around him and Iphigenia battle for position. Ultimately though, as in most Greek tragedies, it is the women who have to deal with the fallout from their men’s military ambitions. Euripides does not spare his audience the depth of Clytemnestra’s grief on the loss of her daughter, no matter what spin the Chorus puts on Iphigenia’s disappearance at the altar of Artemis.
Despite some weaknesses in direction and dramaturgy, this production is a timely revival of Euripides’ classic play, and modern audiences will find much to think about in this drama of leaders who are willing to do the unthinkable—and who conveniently forget the human costs for those who are powerless against them.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Iphigenia In Aulis
Cockpit Theatre until 14th November as part of Voila! Europe 2019