Whitehall Theatre, London SW1
Opened 27 May, 1999

Most peculiar: it is clear that this second production in Oxford Stage Company's West End season is a curate'e egg, but rather harder to identify reliably which are the good parts. Samuel Adamson's deliberately blunt translation will strike many as irreverent when Masha gives the toast "To buggery with everything!" or Chebutykin in his cups rails against the "shits" of the town's elite, but Adamson is simply trying here as elsewhere to invest the text with a force and directness too often lost in more piously cautious renderings. Kulygin is one of the characters Paul Ritter, with his skills in the art of distracted bumbling, was born to play, and Ritter picks a refreshingly unusual point for the character's Act Four breakdown. As his wife Masha, Claudie Blakley is deliciously mordant, but is at her weakest when supposedly most passionate, in her adulterous involvement with Jonny Phillips's lank, anodyne Colonel Vershinin. The "back to Moscow" motif here seems not so much to be a shared dream as the particular obsession of Kelly Reilly's neurotic Irina.

If this seems a catalogue of individual distractions and characters wrapped up in themselves, that is how Dominic Dromgoole seems to have directed the play: everyone has their own motivation, but the coherence of any individual scene is largely the luck of the draw as to whether those particular actors and/or characters rub well against each other. Any sense of overall coherence seems as unfinished as Ti Green's incomprehensibly slapdash set.

Written for The Stage.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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