Eliot Giuralarocca adapts Chekhov’s The Chemist’s Wife, At a Summer Villa, The Lady with a Little Dog, The Bear and An Avenger into a beautifully interweaving set of fleeting tales. Each is tied together by lovers lamenting or lovers swooning and there’s a general sense of fluidity which lends itself to a free-flow of sequencing, with characters appearing and disappearing into various stories. Such lack of reins does lead to a déjà vu sensation at times as the characters and plots take on increasing cross-over but on the flip side, there’s little more pleasing about adaptations than a sense of neat cohesion.
A cast of five bring Chekhov’s muddled characters to life with some great flair for the dramatics and comedy. Graeme Dalling is a particularly winning force on stage and is joined by Elisabeth Snegir as stand out of the production – the cast as a whole are in fact great. Snegir excels as the doe-eyed tragic types, inviting everyone within 100 metres to invest in her lovelorn sighs of discontent. Meanwhile Laura Singleton brings some nice sardonic wit to the table which is gratefully received in what might otherwise be an overly romanticised take on ill-fated love affairs.
Tom Neill too is at his best in comic capacity while Eliot Giuralarocca (who also directs) handles comic and deeply dramatic roles equally well. But it’s in Dalling that we really find the best of both worlds as he brings a certain kind of performative spark to each role he dons – his scenes with sales are a real highlight of this production.
Speaking of which, In and Out of Chekhov’s Shorts features some wonderful playfulness in its style, particularly in the second act which sees more physical comedy and larger comic arcs than the first. It does result in some imbalance and the first act would definitely benefit from some more of the flair of the second to bring it up a notch in terms of variety and visual charm.
Musical accompaniment is an excellent strong point with composer and musical director Neill’s work giving the production as a whole a kind of pastoral nostalgia, underscoring segues with lively ditties and offering our characters ample opportunities to sing their heart’s secrets. Snegir benefits immeasurably from Neill’s songs in having the tallest platform for showcasing a sweet Soprano voice perfectly in tune with the natures of her characters.
While there’s nothing particularly outlandish or wildly innovative about In and Out of Chekhov’s Shorts, it does offer up some excellent performances and a combination of stories to enjoy in all their whimsy, wackiness and drama. It’s particularly winning to see such a strong ensemble carry a piece like this so smoothly, cajoling Chekhov’s work into new formations in a playful picture of love and life. So if you’re looking for something of a gentle antithesis to perfect Hollywood love stories, take a punt on this!
Written by Always Time For Theatre.