Platonov – Young Chekhov Season at the National Theatre
The first in a day-long staging of playwright David Hare’s acclaimed Young Chekhov trilogy, Platonov tells the tale of cynical lothario and provincial school teacher Mikhail Vasilievich Platonov, who is helpless in the face of his passing youth and fortunes. Consequences and histrionics ensue as the married educator is self-indulgently torn between good and right, and the allure of his hilariously irresistible charms, which render both him and the “trail of ruined women” around him, well, helpless.
One of the innumerable delights in this transferred Chichester Festival Theatre production is the sheer scale and exquisite detail of set-designer Tom Pye’s stunning 19th Century Russian estate setting: the vast swathes of wood – both forest and floor – and the real-life lake, with reeds and trees, through to the sound of crickets that the audience is more than prepared to believe might also be in the room. From walking into the Olivier theatre – with Nina Sosanya’s educated and fiery landowner widower, Anna Petrovna, and Joshua James’ quickfire and questionably qualified doctor, Nikolai Triletsk, already ensconced in a game of on-stage chess – the whole experience feels rather like it’s happening upon the expansive back garden of a fascinating ensemble of true-to-life characters and generously being offered a seat. As the tempo of the action waxes and wanes, perfectly encapsulating Mikhail’s fits of passion and introspection, the stellar cast are nothing short of effervescent, director Jonathan Kent utilising the space beautifully as characters disappear and emerge from every conceivable corner.
Despite the singular titling, Chekhov’s earliest dated play is very much an ensemble piece; albeit centred around the gravitational and inescapable pull of James McArdle’s swaggering, introspective and effusive Platonov, felt by the other characters and audience alike. Railing from passion to self-pity, McArdle is compelling, roguish and in turn heartbreakingly farcical as we witness his character’s descent into rakish ruin. Nina Sosanya is masterful as the forthright, playful and increasingly more desperate Anna (but one of Platonov’s four love interests), while Joshua James as Platonov’s brother-in-law Nikolai is gloriously acerbic, with an acute and accomplished timing that more than once threatens to steal the show: no mean feat in a cast of this calibre.
As on-stage fortunes and any initial glimpses of happiness begin to wilt in the stifling Russian summer heat, the cast surely do not, instead delivering a masterclass in enchantment, artistry and razor-sharp wit. Simply put, this is a stunning production from a world-class ensemble; a glorious and evocative feast for the senses truly not to be missed.
Photo: Johan Persson
Platonov is on at the Olivier Theatre, National Theatre from 3rd August until 8th October 2016. Book your tickets here.