This article is from 2009.
Haunting Chekovian elegy
Over the years, there have been a number of examples of dramatists borrowing characters from other writers’ works and giving them life elsewhere, but no version of this kind of experiment could be as striking as Brian Friel’s reflection on the later life of two characters from a couple of Chekov’s masterpieces.
Sonya (Frances Barber) is discovered many years after the action of Uncle Vanya, sitting in a Moscow café. Vanya is long since dead, and the estate in even greater poverty, but as the evening unfolds, we learn that she still carries a torch for Astrov, now an occasional visitor and long married. It’s the end of the evening, and she’s joined by Andrey (Niall Buggy) from Three Sisters, who at first claims to be a leading player in a local orchestra, but who, as the evening proceeds, reveals that his life has continued its nose dive: these days he can be found busking on the very streets of Moscow that his siblings had idealised, during visits to his imprisoned son.
What’s remarkable about Garry Hynes’ production of Friel’s 2002 hit is the sureness with which it evokes the writer’s deliberately Chekovian tone. The melancholy satisfactions of ‘living your life in the waiting room’, as Sonya puts it, are as self evident as the desperate isolation of these two figures counting down their days in genteel poverty. Francis O’Connor’s down-at-heel café set represents an impressive physical manifestation of the lives represented, as each character reflects on the theme of unrequited love that runs through all of Chekov’s major works. So, too, the fight against poverty from characters who have lost much of the bounty of their early lives seems to strike a chord with the insecurities that afflict many today.
The performances, too, are beautifully measured, with Barber’s patient suffering subtly veined with aching loneliness, and Buggy’s early impetuous fecklessness brought logically forward to a kind of bumptious self deception that’s occasionally tempered by regret. This is a haunting, and sometimes surprisingly, funny night out.
King’s Theatre, 473 2000, 1 Sep, 6pm, 3 Sep, 7.30pm, 4 Sep, 2pm, 5 Sep, 5pm, £10–£25.