Chekhov in Hell wows audience
Tired of the usual didactic indictments of modern society where the characters' actions and statements are reflections of the writer's politics?
Exhausted by polemics on the meanness of western society in the 21st century - but unconvinced about the alternatives which typically involve sacrificing good coffee and hot showers?
Bored by angst ridden existential trivia masquerading as theatre, but still seeking something that asks interesting questions about modern existence?
Then you need look no further than Circa's latest powerhouse production of the Chekhov in Hell, a play which will have you crying out in despair at one moment and tortured with laughter the next.
The show opened on Saturday and won much applause.
The plot is simple. In 1904 Anton Chekhov, the well known Russian playwright, is dying. Somehow (and this is unexplained) he emerges alive in modern London a hundred or so years later, and he has a series of picaresque encounters which leave him utterly bewildered.
The encounters enable the audience to see the absurdity of much that we take for granted as normal in this century. A scene where two TV production entrepreneurs pitch a concept to Chekhov for a new show called Helping Hand amply demonstrates the emptiness of real intellect and emotion behind most modern TV shows.
The apparently helpful policewoman who seeks to comfort Chekhov's modern day relative when he goes missing is a triumph of modern "care speech"; how to appear to be empathic without actually being helpful, genuinely caring or actually doing anything that the 'victim' might find remotely useful.
And then there's the dress designer and fashion manipulator who labels women stupid because (triumph upon triumph) the fashion industry got them to wear thongs instead of underwear, and then to combine that with hipster jeans, and tops ending just above the waist.
The show is demanding on a New Zealand audience who need to follow the dialogue carefully, and to have some awareness of modern trends as well as a taste for the absurd.
A British reviewer of the London production of Chekhov in Hell last year said, "Satirising post modernity should be a doddle: 21st century life is long long parody as it is. However for this reason it is all too easy for any observations to be lazily made. Chekhov in Hell allows no such complacency." I agree.
The cast who play multiple roles are excellent; and are superbly directed by Eleanor Bishop, one of Wellington's rising theatrical talent. Already a Chapman Tripp award winner, she has done a stunning job with this production, her directorial debut at Circa after many successes at BATS including "The Intricate Art of Actually Caring," which is being revived again for a nationwide tour in June/July.
Chekhov in Hell is on at Circa Two until 9 June.