No such luxuries are afforded the Galleon Theatre Company. In its one, long room above a pub, Galleon has found the perfect intimate space in which to pull us right into Chekhov's milieu. This close, we can laugh the laughs of genuine Chekhovian discomfort, and squirm along with our characters caught in a net.
The setting calls to mind Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Ivanov, and Gorky's Summerfolk, with a group of middle-class friends and family summering (and simmering) in the country, relieving their ennui by consummating the odd pash or staging a highly strung feud.
The set is dressed simply, but the actors are beautifully costumed (Rachel Baynton designs), and the rudimentary lighting rig is very effective in the hands of Robert Gooch. Bruce Jamieson's unfussy staging captures the keen sense of inevitability that permeates Chekhov, but without that earnest, leaden feeling that can so mar the worst productions of this writer. Crucially, hope remains intact. Without hope, there would be no bleak laughter.
In places, passions never fully ignite, but the comedy is always mined to full effect. Emma Lucas's inconsolable Masha nips at a hip flask and snorts snuff as she puts off the day she has to marry the schoolmaster. It is a performance of considerable stillness. Tom Golding invests his tragic, idealistic writer Konstantin with all the heavy-lidded smoulder of a young David Hemmings.
A couple of performances belong in much less intimate spaces. They are not bad performances, but are distractingly frantic under the microscope of this room. But it is a testimony to the production that the mood of the audience and the spell of the play remained unbroken.
To 4 September (020-8858 9256)
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