FringeReview Scotland 2016
Life is thrown into turmoil when Lieutenant Colonel Verhsinin turns up and sweeps Masha off her feet whilst Olga is likely to become the new headmistress and Irina is destined to be doomed for love following a pointless duel. Their brother, Andrey, is running them to rack and ruin as we see him grow from the lovesick lover of Natasha before he defends her as his devotion takes him into increasing expenditure and possible fraud before a fire brings all into its wake and leaves them struggling; and they say nothing happens in Chekhov…
As with any adaptation this treads a thin line between retaining the charm and joy of its source whilst bringing it closer to a contemporary and in this case, Scottish audience. Cumbernauld have managed to do this in part. On some occasions the references were left geographically Eastern European and therefore sounded odd. It left the dialogue rooted in the language of Chekhov but found its tongue struggling with the context of Scotland as the rhythm of the accents onstage was varied.
Direction was crisp and efficient though some characterisations were less than convincing. The use of some set pieces were good enough to wish there were more of them whilst the ensemble need of the piece was served with enthusiasm rather than skill at times. The performances of Dr Chebutykin and Olga were particularly good and held a lot of the scenes together. Their blend of subtlety and characterisation were a joy at times.
The design was an absolute gem. The split stage worked tolerably well although there were some sight line issues with people to the wings of the auditorium when the action went a bit too far back. That having been said the dinner table and the garden were inspired and made me want to see more of this. The correlation between them created a new fourth wall which I thought a very interesting concept – especially when it was breached.
The use of lighting was also worthy of admission whilst the soundscape was a little less inspiring. I did not really get a lot of the noises that came out of nowhere and perhaps a more all-consuming soundscape would have worked better; budget permitting.
It has to be acknowledged that with a cast of 7 this was a great opportunity for Scottish actors and they have taken it with a modicum of assurance. With a rounder adaptation that tries not to straddle Russia and Scotland but make a decision as to where it resides, a bedding down of some of the performances and a more settled rhythm this could grow into something quite special. As it stands right now it is highly worthy of this Russian master storyteller but could do with an extra layer to help with the cool audience reception which was all too evident on the night I attended.