“We are sleepwalking to oblivion,” says would-be literary iconoclast Konstantin in John Donnelly's audacious new version of Chekhov's look at life, art and the imitations of both. It's not the most un-Chekhovian line Donnelly tosses into his knowingly modern mix, but it's not a bad start. Here, Alexander Cobb's Konstantin is a theatrical brat intent on breaking the mould via the sort of site-specific performance that's all the rage these days. The fact that his old-school actress mother Irina is doing the dirty with tortured artist Boris, and that his play, performed half naked by Pearl Chanda's star-struck Nina, is the sort of pretentious tosh that gives experimental theatre a bad name, doesn't help his cause any.
With all about him pumped up on prescription drugs and booze, amidst his bluster and grand poetic gestures, Konstantin can't even get it together to shoot himself. While Donnelly retains the play's Russian setting, his characters more resemble the sort of well-heeled London bohemians who made good on the back of the 1960s, and have been getting their heads together in the country ever since.
Stylistically, Blanche McIntyre's production for Headlong and the Nuffield, Southampton moves between heavy-duty angst to comic archness and back again, while at its heart it lays bare the selfish self-absorption of the male ego at play. Nowhere is this captured better than in a remarkable scene in which Abigail Cruttenden's Irina flatters Gyuri Sarossy's Boris back into her arms with considerably more physical gusto than is normally seen in Chekhov. Konstantin may be a literary success by the end of the play, but it's Nina's broken presence that matters more.
The Herald, May 3rd 2013 ends