Chekhov in Moscow
Reviewed – 28th August 2019
“the success of this play really lies with the performances”
Chekhov in Moscow at The Space Arts Centre on the Isle of Dogs will delight Chekhov fans. The script is packed with memorable lines and is performed by talented actors. If the set and lighting are a bit makeshift, it does not matter. This lively script, written by Mike Carter, and with some help from Chekhov himself, takes the audience to Moscow in the year 1896 or thereabouts, where the playwright is still smarting from the disastrous reception of The Seagull, even
though he is a successful and celebrated short story writer.
Enter actress Olga Knipper (whom Chekhov will marry in 1901) and director Konstantin Stanislavski, who together save him from despair and turn his playwriting life around. But instead of focusing on Chekhov’s rise to fame with the Moscow Art Theatre, which Stanislavski founded, Carter chooses instead to focus on the short plays that Chekhov wrote. His “vaudevilles” as the playwright described them dismissively. Chekhov in Moscow begins with Knipper and Stanislavski waiting impatiently for some new pages that Chekhov has promised them. The playwright soon appears, or rather, tries to sneak as unobtrusively as possible into the rehearsal room because, of course — and every playwright will be familiar with this moment — he has not written them. When confronted with his failure to produce the playwriting goods, Chekhov quips “New pages? Just put people in a room and start them arguing.” And we are off. The next fifty five minutes consist of Olga, Konstantin, and Chekhov’s favourite actor, Alexander Artyom, trying to get Chekhov back to work. They hit on the idea of presenting some extracts from Chekhov’s shorts The Bear and A Tragedian In Spite Of Himself. But while the playwright writhes with embarrassment, or covers his head with his hands at the revival of these early works in 1896, audiences in 2019 will find plenty to laugh at in these charming pieces.
The strengths of this production of Chekhov in Moscow are not just in the writing, but in the acting. There is some fine directing by Elizabeth Quinn as well. But the success of this play really lies with the performances of Louise Devlin, playing Knipper, Edward Tidy as Stanislavski, Anthony Cozens as Chekhov, and John Rayment taking on the Falstaffian role of Chekhov’s friend Alexander Artyom. If there is one performance that deserves to be singled out from this talented quartet, it would be that of Louise Devlin, who brings both versatility and intensity to the role of Knipper (and female and male roles in the vaudevilles). Her acting is persuasive, and by the end of Chekhov in Moscow she has, as Knipper, persuaded the character of Chekhov himself. “You make me feel magnificent” she tells him. Inspirational words for any playwright to hear.
So if you have ever thought that Chekhov is not the playwright for you, try Chekhov in Moscow as an entertaining introduction to the playwright and his milieu. You will even enjoy the easy bus ride from Canary Wharf to The Space Arts Centre, where you can enjoy a drink in the charming cafe before the beginning of the show.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Greg Baldock
Chekhov in Moscow
The Space until 1st September
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: