FringeReview Scotland 2018
Olga, Misha and Irina are in the shadow of the death of their father attempting to find solace within their lives. For Olga this is a time when as the eldest she feels pressured to be mature, with Misha it is mainly temper tantrums and distress as she falls for a soldier, though already married and for Irina, it is simply a wish to return to Moscow, to find her true purpose and love. Stuck in a house with their feckless brother who has mortgaged their legacy to keep his tyrannical wife happy, it is a tragic story that fulfills very little. Like all Chekhovian work the lack of action can define the purpose of the plot and as the three sisters wave the soldiers off at the end, we have learned so much and they seem to have learned very little, though that may simply be the point of it all.
This is a triumph. The themes of the piece, the dreams of all three sisters left unrequited, their wandering through the narrative, hindered by the opinions and views of others and the feeling of hopelessness of fighting against what they must feel like the inevitable ends that are beyond their influence must have resonated beautifully with the experiences of each of the actors in their own lives. If there was ever a company better suited to the piece, I fail to think of one.
Added to that the music provided by the Sibelius Academy and writer Adrian Osmond’s deft understanding of both script and cast and this blends to being a massively impressive piece of work.
And yet, there could be argued, a need for companies such as Lung Ha to stick to the new, the innovative and the retelling of their own stories. Such visions as clouded by the cataracts of dis and not the view of ability. Having seen Lung Ha a few times over many years it struck me consistently that there were actors onstage whose development I had witnessed and now enjoyed their confident striding purpose across the stage of a European classic; if ever there was an argument for long term investment funding beyond the short sighted 3 year cycle, I witnessed it. But it was the connection between the classic story and the cast that struck me most; they were telling their own stories, just using Chekhov as a vehicle, the universal presented by the personal.
Central to the success has to be the three sisters. In Emma McCaffrey, Nicola Tuxworth and Emma Clark, they had a cast blended together with individual strengths and collective togetherness. Managing a creative structure, many would and ought to, envy, how they managed to give the piece a tight central platform upon which many flourished and no one floundered.
It would be wrong, however, to just praise their performances as they managed to stand upon the shoulders of subtle and assured performances from Paul Harper as a sensitive and caring Vershinin, a very capable and convincing Michael Connolly as Baron Tuzenbach, a tremendously nuanced and tragic Andrey in Kenneth Ainslie, a distanced and perfectly pitched Natasha in Terry Robb whilst Gavin Yule gave a most convincing performance as the moustachioed and then clean shaven Kulygin, stuck in his desire to understand and keep his wife’s heart. For me though I was drawn to John Edgar’s Chebutykin and Scott Davidson’s Solynoy each and every time they entered the stage, their ability to draw us into their delivery was fantastic and gave the comedy to a comically underplayed piece of theatre.
The rest in the 20 strong cast – 20 strong, could you imagine it – were simply magnificent in giving each principal opportunity and support.
With Karen Tennant providing a sumptuous set upon which all the theatre arts from costume to light were applied with great skill there was one more massive advantage that was to come from the theatre arts; the music.
I have had the privilege of working alongside the Finnish College, Kiipula, and am well aware of the Finnish progressive attitude to those with learning disabilities. To hear the work of the Sibelius Academy and their students, creatively and practically led onstage by composer Anna-Karin Korhonen was fantastic. It fitted and added to the whole production.
Quality was woven throughout this piece of theatre. Highlights for me included the tender scenes between Nicola Tuxworth, all coy and alluring, and Paul Harper, trying to play aloof and proper as Vershinin or when the trapped Andrey played by Kenneth Ainslie stumbled a little. Keeping in character and able to correct things himself he was triumphant at getting back on track but also using that slight hiccup to give his character a more human quality that endeared him more.
That a learning disabled company tackled Chekhov would, I am sure, have raised a few eyebrows and harnessed a few negative thoughts. I really wanted to see this production not just because I like the company but also because I wanted to know what they made of it. I may have had trepidations in my approach, hoping they did not stumble and gave something that was a challenge a competent airing and a unique view. I went in with some concerns. Lung Ha taught me something. A theatrical classic put on to a professional standard by a learning disabled company? Why the hell not. Showing a deft directorial flair that kept the play contemporary, classic and relevant whilst paying homage to its heritage at the same time, Artistic Director, Maria Oller has taught many lessons over the years, this just adds to the cannon; shame on me for doubting them.
I left that Wednesday afternoon with a spring in my step and a thought in my head; when are they back?