Longing, Hampstead Theatre, London
Friday 08 March 2013
Chekhov is amongst that very rare breed of author who is a genius in two distinct forms – the play and the short story. Michael Frayn, not un-incidentally a fine translator of Chekhov, is another such.
And now William Boyd is putting in a bid to join these thinnish ranks with Longing – a debut drama from the ersatile and prolific novelist in which he has adapted and run together one of Chekhov's longer and better-known prose fictions “My Life” and one of his more obscure but autobiographically revealing stories “A Visit to Friends” which is, in certain respects, an embryonic Cherry Orchard.
I sat through through the resulting piece in a mood of deep respect but I found that I couldn't surrender to it. This is no fault of Nina Raine's wonderful production which finds, releases and expertly shapes the baffled tragicomic Chekhovian energies in the dramatised situation.
And the actors are uniformly splendid. A superlative and surprising Vanya for Lucy Bailey last year, Iain Glen offers a penetrating portrayal here of the kind of moulting heart-breaker who can't, as we say these days, “commit”. And Tamsin Greig is quietly devastating as the pragmatic, lonely doctor, Varia. I love the faint glint of arrogance she gives to the masochism with which the character presses the romantic claims of a younger rival and does any actor stub out cigarettes with a more expressive bleakness than this splendid performer? It's good to see John Sessions back on stage, too, as a rather oily arriviste.
The trouble is that the play itself, abounding in overt points of similarity the canonical Chekhov dramas, feels, as a result, strangely repro- and ersatz. “We can only be minutes away from a samovar”, I remarked to the lady sitting next to me as the lights came up on Lizzie Clachan's fine delapidated summer house set. I never said a truer word.
Last year Peter Gill directed an adaptation he made in 1966 of Chekhov's short story “A Provincial Life”. That had what Longing lacks – a strong sense of its own creative identity with Gill even locating and pointing up affinities between the Russian genius and D H Lawrence. It didn't seem like a graceful exercise but like a play for today.
To April 6; 722 9301
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 2 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 3 Tunisian builder has been hailed a hero after knocking gunman to the ground with roof tiles
- 4 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 5 Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
Kanye West at Glastonbury 2015: 'He raps' - BBC subtitles team upstages Yeezy with hilarious description of lyrics
Orange Is The New Black season 3 episode 1, review: The Ross and Rachel-ness of Piper and Alex is starting to grate
Glastonbury 2015: Lionel Richie attracts festival's biggest crowds for Sunday's 'dad slot'
Top Gear last episode review: A momentous occasion for Clarkson, Hammond and May fans
Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James's Twitter Q&A didn't go exactly as planned
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato