Steve Coogan to take on Chekhov

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The Independent Online

The creator of such erudite characters as the Mancunian cultural icons Paul and Pauline Calf is to further test the range of his acting talent by performing the work of Anton Chekhov in commemoration of the 150 th anniversary of the birth of the Russian writer and dramatist.

Steve Coogan is to play Ivan Ivanovich Nyukhin in the one act play On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco , originally published in 1886. Coogan’s part is that of a hen-pecked husband who, despite being an habitual smoker himself, is persuaded by his wife to give a public lecture on the destructive qualities of the wicked weed. The timorous Nyukhin devotes the entire address to complaining about his marital problems.

The televised play will be part of a four-part series of Chekhov comedies and farces screened on Sky Arts later this year. The other performances will see MacKenzie Crook appearing alongside Johnny Vegas in A Reluctant Tragic Hero , and Mathew Horne, star of BBC1’s Gavin & Stacey , taking the lead in The Proposal . Horne’s character Ivan Vassilievich Lomov, a hypochondriac suitor with his eye on his neighbour’s 25-year-old daughter. The final play will see Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh and Julia Davis – who are a couple in real life – playing opposite each other in The Bear .

The plays are being filmed by Baby Cow Productions, the company that Coogan runs with his business partner Henry Normal, and are being directed by Christine Gernon, the director of Gavin & Stacey .

Normal said he pitched the idea to Sky after realising the Chekhov anniversary and reading up on the writer’s comedy works and watching 50 year-old televised productions. “Every so often I have a look at what anniversaries are coming up and seeing if there’s anything we should be looking at. I bought a box set of when they last did Chekhov, on the 100 th anniversary. I read that he had a few one act plays that were comedies and a couple of have never been done. So I got the books and read them and they work in the present day because they are about attitude, manners and hypocrisy,” he said.

Normal is in discussions with the BBC in an attempt to persuade the corporation to commission a production of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance , in order that Coogan might realise an ambition of playing the lead role of the dandy Lord Illingworth. The play has not been performed on British television. “Steve wants to play the lead and I’m trying to persuade them to do it,” said Normal.

The famously prolific Coogan is not short of work. He has made a six-part comedy series with his friend Rob Brydon, in which they Rob and Steve a pair of foodies who antagonise each other while reviewing food in the Lake District. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, The Trip will be broadcast by BBC2 in September. “They go round the Lake District reviewing food and getting on each other’s nerves, to the amusement of the viewer I’m glad to say. It’s very filmic - you get some lovely shots of the Lake District and of the food, he’s captured it in a very naturalistic way. It’s very improvised and I think it will look different from any comedy that’s on at the moment.”

Coogan has a long relationship with Winterbottom and his production company Revolution Films, having starred in the director’s A Cock & Bull Story , in which the comic actor played Tristram Shandy, hero of the whimsical Laurence Sterne novel on which the movie was based. Brydon also appeared in the film.

Yesterday Coogan and Normal attended the latest meeting in the development of Alan Partridge: The Movie , which is likely to be filmed in America. Coogan also has a role in the new Mark Wahlberg film The Other Guys , due for release in the autumn.

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