by Fiona Mountford
May 25, 2005
The only thing that this superlative group of actors from the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg struggled with during one of the best evenings of London theatre this year was the curtain call.
Repeatedly summoned back on stage by rapturous applause, the cast looked increasingly awkward. Maybe they take this kind of excellence for granted in Russia.
Lev Dodin's masterful production is, like everything that Maly produces, the result of a legendarily lengthy rehearsal process. So finely attuned are the nine actors to both each other and the nuances of the text that the senses of longing, loss and regret that pervade the play become so real they are almost tangible.
Dodin skilfully establishes the prevalent mood as one of languor. The speeches are slow—which provides vital time to read surtitles on non-ideally positioned screens at the side of the stage—and the pauses plentiful, allowing our rhythms to decelerate to match those of Chekhov's slothful characters.
By the end, we feel we have spent a month in the country on the Serebryakov estate, so familiar are we with the way that love, conviction, health and even the crops are atrophying. Walking out of the theatre requires a huge mustering of energy.
On David Borovsky's almost bare set overhung by three symbolic hay bales, Ksenia Rappoport's magnificent Elena, young wife to Igor Ivanov's desiccated old Professor, trails boredom in her wake. The others are moths to her dangerous flame: first comes Sergey Kuryshev's initially charismatic Vanya, followed by Petr Semak as a dashing Doctor Astrov.
Yet it is the unrequited love of Sonya (ardent Elena Kalinina) that leaps with the greatest ease across the boundaries of language and centuries to resonate in the here and now. Don't miss this.
Learn more about the production.