Adelaide Fringe 2012
Anton Chekov’s short stories come to life in this amateur production. A scriptwriter has to endure the dramatics of an adoring fan trying to emulate his hero’s work. A young girl mocks and insults her French tutor and despite everything, has the upper hand in the battle. A woman in mourning is paid a visit by her late husband’s creditor ending with a twist in the tale. The Sneeze, the series’ namesake, is a hilarious piece of physical theatre. An Inspector General goes for a cart ride incognito to find out what the people really think of him. Finally, a proposal ends in polite squabble over land and family pride.
It is easy to understand Chekov’s plays and immerse yourself in his contemporary works—his plays explore the hardships and difficulties in Russia, but with satire and wit running throughout. All of his plays follow a tried and tested formula—the exaggerated comic characters, the monotony of daily life shattered by an (often) unwelcome character and a twist in the tale that adds to the comedy and lightens the otherwise dark and gloomy stories.
A young cast of six girls and the school’s director attempt dramatization and reproduction of Chekov’s classics with varying degrees of success. It is an admirable feat for such a young troupe to take their audience into the heart of Russia and a few outstanding performances from Sara Pepe, Sasha Krieg, and Andrew Jefferies made the evening a success. While the stories were entertaining in themselves, the actors failed to seize control and ownership of the characters they were playing. Some parts were recited, rather than acted and the audience reacted to the script rather than the performance. Theatrical comedy needed to be exaggerated and the actors needed to enunciate their words, and adequately exact the punch lines for the audience to understand the subtle humour.
However, it was apparent that each actor had a preference for at least one character and played that role with pride and passion. Those performances were entertaining and memorable. The experienced director played his role expertly and transformed into his character, never breaking the illusion.
The costumes were simple, but adequately reflected the harsh conditions of the rural countryside and suited each character’s role. The lighting and soundtrack were not used to great effect—only to illuminate the stage and create an ambience between acts. The venue’s environment and purpose detracted greatly from the play in parts—for a play with such subtle humour and a decided script, it would have benefitted from fewer distractions and disruptive noises.
This production was a brave attempt at one of the classic playwrights and with a little experience and further understanding of the scripts’ subtle humour and wit on the actors’ part this can be an immense success. The actors demonstrate enormous talent and potential and it is encouraging to note that classic plays can be re-invented and re-interpreted for a contemporary audience.