The Home Place, Comedy Theatre, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"The trees, the doomed trees," cries the Tom Courtenay character in Brian Friel's new play, The Home Place. Here's a man who knows his Chekhov, you might think. Except that this is County Donegal in 1878 and The Cherry Orchard is still 26 years away.

"The trees, the doomed trees," cries the Tom Courtenay character in Brian Friel's new play, The Home Place. Here's a man who knows his Chekhov, you might think. Except that this is County Donegal in 1878 and The Cherry Orchard is still 26 years away.

The author, though, is a man who certainly knows his Chekhov. He's translated several of the plays, adapted some of the short stories, and even granted a couple of the Russian writer's characters a theatrical after-life in a sequel. But the Chekhovian echoes are sometimes too blatant in this latest piece, and the material feels, on occasion, as if it's being forced into preordained patterns.

The Home Place treats us to a day in the life of a widowed, paternalistic English landlord, Christopher Gore (played by Courtenay). We encounter him at a time when an agricultural depression is inciting the tenants to rebel. Christopher has just returned from a memorial service for a tyrannical landowner who'd been battered to death. The title is ironic and ambiguous. Christopher feels doubly exiled - both from the memory of his Kentish birthplace and from his adoptive country where, in addition to having to cope with the new political threat, he finds himself competing with his son for the love of Derbhle Crotty's beautiful young housekeeper.

At his best (as in Faith Healer), there are few contemporary dramatists who can touch Friel. But this piece, for all that it opens a window on a fascinating moment in Anglo-Irish relations, strikes me as a mix of second-best Friel and second-hand Chekhov.

Fifteen years ago, Adrian Noble directed one of the most perceptive versions ever of Three Sisters, but this handsomely designed production from Dublin's Gate Theatre of The Home Place is not up to his usual Chekhovian (or in this case neo-Chekhovian) standards. I don't know if first-night nerves had got to Courtenay, but I've rarely heard speeches chopped up in such a pointlessly mannered way. It seems that both within the play and surrounding it, everyone has seen better days.

To 27 August (0870 060 6637)

Comments