17-23 Aug, 0020 (0150) @ Zoo Roxy
By Danielle Farrow
Cabaret is perhaps something of a misnomer for this selection of Chekhov shorts, adapted for stage from Rosamund Bartlett’s translations of his early works. Possibly, more of a cabaret feel will emerge if you have guests talking between acts, as is apparently supposed to happen, but none of whom were present on opening night. There is a vodka bar, however the seating, straight on and raked, creates a more traditional theatre setting.
Music does welcome the audience, with the feel of Russian strains in the initial violin and accordion pieces, and the following move to violin and keyboard provides a supporting background score which complements, and sometimes amusingly punctuates, the scenes in pleasing fashion and without distraction. There are no songs, though, as might have been expected in a cabaret, and the containment of the scenes also does not directly involve the audience.
Yet the pieces themselves are performed in something of a ‘cabaret fashion’, complete with dark eye make-up, and are also reminiscent of commedia dell’arte – caricatures for the most part, with varying accents, voices and physicalisations. These are accomplished performances from the cast of four, and Chekhov’s stories include humour bawdy, strange and satirical, and also some touching pathos. They have a delightful absurdity to them, one description being the engaging ‘A promiscuous candlestick makes the rounds of Moscow’.
Occasionally, the mannerisms adopted by the players are a bit too repetitive, but overall they are very detailed, amusing and well-directed by Michael Earley. The space is used reasonably enough, but most of the detail is in physical characteristics and the use of props. There is a very intriguing lady who manages to dance in flamenco style even while seated throughout her piece. A bench as a double bass does sterling service for a princess and her wooing musician, beset by a devil who is nicely connected to another piece where he becomes a drunk’s dear friend.
Cabaret Chekhov is an amusing way to enjoy Chekhov’s early work, mostly written to support his studies. It entertains, with a mixture of clowning and straight theatre that is well-mingled to make a consistent whole. The order of the stories works, especially the connection between first and last, and the slight emptiness around the acts will hopefully be countered by the promised guests – this should also fill the allotted time, which did not occur at the first showing.