Gate Theatre, London W11
Opened 11 June, 2008

At the end of Chekhov’s play, eldest sister Olga laments, “The time will come when... we will be forgotten, our faces, our voices, and even how many of us there were.” This drew a knowing laugh from the audience watching Chris Goode’s deconstruction/reimagining of the piece. Goode’s cast of five women and one man seem to have their initial roles determined by chance each evening, depending upon the opening of an envelope, but as the 90-minute performance continues they switch roles, sometimes with two or more playing the same part at once, so that indeed it is as if history has forgotten how many sisters there were. Or rather, not quite. We, after all, have not forgotten, hence the laugh is knowing.
Goode is an endlessly questing theatrical tinkerer who invents formats, constraints and directions in order to find a paradoxical freedom in them, and who is constantly exercised by the notion of theatre as an immediate, renewing and renewed experience. His intention here is that, by freeing the play from the textual form so many of us know and allowing the actors to find their own shape for it each time, they and we together might undergo something akin to the experience of performing and watching it for the first time today. But in practice he has not given it as radical an overhaul as I had expected and hoped. It still begins and ends at the same points and goes through most of the salient intervening ones. The newspaper gobbets old Chebutykin reads out may be from the Evening Standard, Masha may condemn the argumentative Solyony as an “utter, utter cock”, and a couple of live rabbits may appear on the (doorless) set for the final act... or they may not, though all these things happened at the performance I saw... but for much of the time the cast are doing little more than paraphrasing the usual lines, and it feels like a devising exercise rather than an end product. This impression lessens in the later acts, but because the unison or phrase-by-phrase ensemble segments in this phase have been pre-shaped to a greater extent, with a fixed text still evidently in place. It is impressive to see how completely the performers inhabit the moment... but isn’t that part of the core of acting anyway?
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2008

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage