The Yalta Game (3 stars)

This article is from 2009.

The Yalta Game

Love story in duologue

The giddiness of love, as well as the dark cynicism that can sometimes undermine it, is a thematic concern to which Brian Friel’s work frequently returns. In this loose theatrical adaptation of Chekov’s short story ‘Lady with Lapdog’, we see an exploration of the subject which narrows the focus to the two lovers, with even the titular lady’s canine becoming a merely imaginary participant.

Richard Cooper’s Gurov, an irresponsible but roguishly charming middle-aged roué, recalls strolling along the seafront of Yalta, a popular resort of Chekov’s Russia, and happening upon a young married woman, with whom he plays out a familiar routine of seduction. Yet Anna (Rebecca O’Mara) takes more of his fancy than he cares to admit, and upon the young woman’s return to her hometown near St Petersburg he finds himself longing to reopen their brief affair, a sentiment returned by Anna.

Patrick Mason’s production in front of Liz Ashcroft’s simple set (a scrimmage of chairs arrayed to represent sidewalk cafés, trains and hotel rooms) is deft in its exploration of the theatrical element of love, the sense that this is something played at, but no less serious for that. That many of the events are recollected and subjectively narrated seems significant, for what emerges clearly from this brief duologue is the idea that love is something more played out in the mind of the lover than created by the loved. Both performers are strong, with Cooper, in particular, capturing the fey theatrical spirit of the piece. However, the spareness of Friel’s work represents a simultaneous strength and weakness, since ultimately one wishes for more depth in the play’s exploration of emotion. Still, if this text, from the get-go, can’t reach the emotional pinnacles of either Faith Healer or Afterplay, the two more substantial Friel pieces brought to the EIF by the Gate Theatre, there’s still a certain bittersweet whimsy to it that makes it worth the watch.

King’s Theatre, 473 2000, 1 Sep, 9pm, 4 Sep, 5pm, 5 Sep, 2pm, £10–£25.

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