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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park


  Lisa Diveney and Janie Dee/ Ph: Johan Persson

It would be petulant of any production mounted in London’s loveliest alfresco venue to ignore the trees, flowers and shrubbery that overhang and surround the stage, thus turning it into a type of magical woodland dell. Delightfully, this punchy and passionate new staging of the Chekhov classic does just the opposite – and then some. The lighting and design – big credit to Philip Gladwell and Jon Bausor – are both incredibly stylish and enter into a vibrant dialogue with the verdant nature of Regent’s Park. The changing shades of evening as darkness falls chime perfectly with the shifting moods of the drama. It’s as though the light itself has been choreographed. And what a slick move to have Konstantin’s play-within-a-play, scheduled by its brooding author to start at sundown, begin at that very time, as we wonder whether we can hold off putting on a jumper until the interval.
A large mirror angled over the action reflects both the characters and the lawns of Arkadina’s (Janie Dee) country estate back at us. It’s a clever commentary on a play that has more than its fair share of self-absorbed, not-waving-but-drowning characters grappling with thwarted artistic and romantic ambitions. In Act Four, a sheet of water cleverly suggests the action has now shifted inside to Konstantin’s (Matthew Tennyson) study, as he stares reflectively out over the grass and small lake that witnessed the birth of his writing career.
Director Matthew Dunster, who oversaw a memorable Midsummer Night’s Dream in this venue three years ago, applies his customary robust energy and strong through-line of thought everywhere here. He’s a director I have long marked out for great things. He is matched in ambition and intent by Torben Betts’ energetic new version of the classic text, which this year celebrates its 120th anniversary. Betts’ work, which includes Konstantin’s memorable description of his mother Arkadina as "as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm," is not certainly one for purists, given that it seizes Chekhov’s writing by the scruff of the neck, lops a bit off, inserts some interior monologues and has characters say, "Bollocks to it!" It is, however, exactly the sort of unstuffy adaptation that is likely to attract Chekhov novices – and indeed those who fancy their Chekhov with a twist occasionally – to this most audience-friendly of theatres, and for that it should be highly commended.
Dee, a strong performer who grows in stature with each new project, was surely born to play Arkadina, an actress so self-centred that she hasn’t found the time to read a single thing her son has written. She does pirouettes around a picnic to show how supple she still is and grabs desperately at her diffident younger lover Trigorin (Alex Robertson), whose eye has already landed on Nina (Sabrina Bartlett, playing the role more forcefully than is perhaps wise). There’s strong support too from Lisa Diveney as a dark and pensive Masha. Grab an ice cream, grab an umbrella, and go.


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