Chekhov’s First Play at the Battersea Arts Centre
Faithful in its unfaithfulness, Chekhov’s First Play dismantles – metaphorically and, in some respects, literally – young Anton’s Platonov in a way that preserves the Russian’s themes of property, capitalism, depression and existential crises while messing about with its own ideas on how theatre approaches its canonical darlings.
It’s funny that the production has arrived at the Battersea Arts Centre the week after the premiere of Robert Icke’s reworking of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck. Despite debuting all the way back in 2015, initially, Chekhov’s First Play actually feels like a slight parody of the Almeida’s latest offering – the two shows sort of share a central gimmick. Icke simulates an audio commentary with his microphone-passing antics; Dead Centre just go ahead and do it.
Whispering into the audience’s headphones, Bush Moukarzel – who is both the “director”, and actual co-director/creator with Ben Kidd – basically tries to SparkNotes the play. He doesn’t do it very well, the attempts at thematic and biographical explanation soured by his grumblings about the cast, self-doubt over his hacked-up version of the narrative, and a general sense of professional ennui.
It’s all very witty and pointed, seemingly taking a shot at the basic conventions of mainstream theatre. Then things start to go wrong – a forgotten line wipes out three whole pages of the script, the director spirals and suddenly the audience is slipping through the already cracked fourth wall.
The amped-up second act provides a potential response to the criticisms that are perhaps raised in the first half, reconfiguring Platonov so it actively rejects easy meaning, stretching the concept of textual modernisation so it bleeds into the original script, past and present leaking into each other.
How this is done is difficult to describe; it’d be a sin to give away Dead Centre’s secrets. They’ve constructed a delicious box of tricks, a highlight reel of revelation that demands protection. Just know that it’s theatre for both those immersed in the art form and those put off by its pretensions.
Photo: Adam Trigg
Chekhov’s First Play is at the Battersea Arts Centre from 31st October until 10th November 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.