Young Chekhov: Three Play Day

Posted by 50connect editorial

Laurence Green reviews the trio of works, Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull, by Russia's greatest dramatist - Anton Chekhov


Love, longing, melancholy and despair are the elements that run right through the trio of works by Russia’s greatest dramatist – Anton Chekhov – namely Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull. These plays presented in absorbing new versions by David Hare, in productions that originated at the Chichester Festival Theatre, have now found a London home at the National’s Olivier auditorium. They can be seen individually or all in one day in chronological order in which they were written, which reveals their connections and what Hare aptly calls their “thrilling sunbursts of youthful anger and romanticism".

First comes Platonov, the overworked play that was discovered 20 years after the author’s death. The action here revolves around the charms of the title character, a raffish schoolteacher (played with feverish wit by the charismatic James McArdle) with a problem – he is irresistible to women. Those who are magnetically drawn to him are the elegant and hungrily passionate Anna (Nina Sosanya) and the more delicate Sofya (Olivia Vinall). Set in the blazing heat of a rural summer, this freewheeling comedy is a cry of youthful defiance against the compromise of middle age.


In Ivanov, the main character is a neglected landowner whose resentfulness and agitation are typical of a play that depicts an entire social class in the grip of boredom, greed and melancholy. Nikolai Ivanov is only 35, a radical and a romantic, but already he is feeling that he has thrown his life away. He hopes one last desperate romance may save him from becoming a small-town Hamlet. This electric play is powered both by biting satire and passionate self-disgust. Geoffrey Streatfeild captures the desperate unhappiness of a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis. He can’t bear the company of his sickly wife Anna (Nina Sosanya) who has renounced her Judaism to be with him, and seeks relief among the party-loving neighbours to whom he owes money. Olivia Vinall is perfect as the lovelorn Sasha who throws herself at him, and fine support comes from Jonathan Coy as her father, unsettled by Ivanov’s decline, James McArdle as a judgmental doctor and Peter Egan as Ivanov’s cynical uncle.

The seagull is the most familiar of the plays, but this interpretation makes it seem newly minted. On a summer’s day in a make shift theatre by the lake, Konstantin’s cutting edge new play is performed, changing the lives of everyone involved forever. Anna Chancellor is splendid as the demonstrative Arkadina, a self-obsessed diva whose entire life is a racy glamorous performance. Olivia Vinall is luminous as the idealistic Nina, smitten with Arkadina’s politely patronising lover, Trigorin (a nicely understated Geoffrey Streatfeild), while Joshua James captures the heady mix of sensitivity and breathless obsessions as the needy, artistic Konstantin. The play brilliantly alternates between the comic and the tragic and signals the birth of the modern stage.

The Seagull

These three productions are a triumph for director Jonathan Kent and while each is marked by some shared themes, there is no sense of watching the same story and characters on repeat – Platonov is raucously amusing, Ivanov caustic and queasy and The Seagull gorgeously bittersweet and elegiac.  

In all then, a rich and rewarding theatrical experience, vividly brought to life by a superb ensemble and marking a unique chance to explore the birth of a revolutionary dramatic force.

Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull

Showing at the National Theatre’s Oliver auditorium until 8 October 2016

Box office: 020 7452 3000

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