The Yalta Game/Afterplay, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Zoë Anderson
Wednesday 02 September 2009 00:00

Brian Friel, a playwright who has translated Chekhov, here spins his own stories around Chekhov characters. Afterplay and The Yalta Game are short, intimate two-handers. In both cases, the onstage action isn't the whole story.

Together with Faith Healer, the two short works are part of the Edinburgh International Festival's celebration of Friel. All three plays have been staged by Dublin's Gate Theatre, though each has a separated cast and production team. Stagings are direct and unfussy, scenery simple but atmospheric.

The Yalta Game dramatises the events of the short story "Lady with a Lapdog". A man and a woman meet in a holiday resort, where they start an adulterous affair. Friel follows Chekhov's plot, but by telling it in dialogue, he shows other sides to these characters: how they flirt, what conversations draw them together.

Gurov's chat-up line involves "the Yalta game", watching other tourists and making wild guesses about their business. Risteárd Cooper's Gurov has a swaggering confidence, a pleasure in spinning tall tales. As Anna, Rebecca O'Mara responds with wide-eyed delight. Friel's dialogue evokes both the invented, imagined lives and the ordinary tourists behind them.

As the tale continues, Gurov speculates on real and imagined life: did the affair really happen? Were the sights they saw real? He's sure that the lapdog was imaginary – and of course, he's right. Theatrical artifice feeds into Friel's, and Chekhov's, questions about what is real in life. The spareness of the staging, directed by Patrick Mason, becomes the point of the story.

Directed by Garry Hynes, Afterplay brings together characters from two Chekhov plays. Sonya from Uncle Vanya meets Andrei from Three Sisters. What happened to them after their original plays ended? Though the afterlives of both characters are increasingly bleak, they spend much of the play putting on brave faces – reaching for "fortitude", or actually lying. Friel doesn't show us what happened; he shows us how these people try to make sense of it.

Frances Barber's Sonya has an easy, assured manner, with financial and emotional worries running underneath. Niall Buggy's Andrei witters gently through his ineffectual lies, making self-deprecating jokes even as he admits to creating "fables".

To 5 September (0131-473 2000)

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