Hampstead Theatre, London – until 21 January 2017
LUKE JONES BUZZES HAPPILY ROUND THE HONEY… Where Ivanov, The Seagull and Uncle Vanya mull, the youthfully fresh and fashionably unfinished Platonov rattles along like the TGV. Michael Frayn has reversioned the work into something incredibly lean. As train after train rolls through their lives, the action is stirred by those who want to escape on it, those trying to stop them and those almost run over by it. (i imagine life is much the same along the Southern Rail route.)
At the centre of this maelstrom of loud colonels, whiney artistic youths and idle landowners (all of whom are easily seducible in various combinations) is Chekhov’s classic wistful, depressive genius. Platonov; a Don Juan philosopher whose bounty of intellect and paucity of success seems to be exactly the brand of man the ladies like. The result is lovable fun with a thrillingly melancholic and fatalist streak. “The only stories that end happily are those that don’t have me in them.”
Frayn rightly notes that Chekhov is almost all plot. Everything revolves around the hero and the four women vying for his attention. The twists (with a strong whiff of Noises Off) are housed in a branchy and breezy set of folding walls. Rob Howell’s 5-way dolls house opens and reveals every which way, producing the perfect home for panting arrivals and panicked fleeing.
Geoffrey Streatfield (as Platonov) has the right lightness of touch and lends genuine depth to the introspective seducer: occasionally he drifts into what is clearly a semi-camp schtick which I’ve seen him do too many times before; flappy hands, flung open arms, jaunty steps etc. But when the pressure of a steam-rolling plot comes chasing, he masterfully navigates it.
Also poking above the general good work of the cast is Justine Mitchell as Anna Petrovna, his more monied option of mistress. She’s hard as nails and brings an incredibly firm but funny strength to the madness. Some of the more fringe cast members were little more than funny sketches who made a decent job of witty lines, but those trusted with heft broadly carried it well.
Howard Davies’s production (picked up by Jonathan Kent after the former’s untimely death) is pitched exactly right as a quintessential farce with emotional meat. When Platonov stops to consider his ludicrous motives or question his many madcap options I feel the weight of it all. A farce with a thoughtful Hamlet at the centre is not to be sniffed at.
Box Office 020 7722 9301. Until 21st January