The Proposal by Anton Chekov Directed by Jo Williams Translated by Julius West
The Proposal was first performed in 1890. It was uncanny... it feels like very modern writing.
The plot involves a young Russian landowner seeks his neighbour's hand in marriage and a situational comedy ensues.
We were seeing the germ...the seeds...the echoes and future ghosts of what later was to be celebrated on the silver screen and later still, the television. You think..oh..Buster Keaton...Chaplin...Groucho...and we're talking 1890. For some reason also, I was put in mind of Danger Man.
Some really strong echoes – and it's the writing, not just actors being influenced by what they've seen in the modern age and I'm not entirely sure why. It was a very short play with a lot packed in...and layers of meaning, perhaps that's it, and hysterically funny.
Rob, who also saw the play with me, does not cope at all well with embarrassment humour, and I've never seen him stay in the same room as a Jerry Lewis movie. But this wasn't really that sort of humour although you can see how it could have developed from it. He was laughing his head off anyway, and showed no signs of crawling under his chair as he usually would.
Modern comics would be educated by watching this play, especially those of the physical comedy persuasion. And anyone who enjoys hearing about the chalice from the palace will be delighted to hear the introductions as Ivan Vassiliyitch Lomov (played by the apparently quadruple jointed and quintillion skilled Cameron Clark) gives his greetings to Stepan Stepanovitch Tschubukov and Natalia Stepanovna in his high, breathless hypochondriac voice without dropping a single perfect Russian syllable. A most difficult script but they all make it look easy.
Nowhere have I seen an audience reduced to helpless laughter by the simple phrase.
“My foot's gone to sleep”
Sounds innocuous, doesn't it? Grads must use this power only for good.
Michaela Savina who plays Natalia was a superb foil for Cameron's character, and their arguments were lively, engergetic, passionate and very amusing with their use of language both physical and verbal. Her expression is worth watching, especially when she realises just what it was that Ivan came to do....and her 'dying' collapse is priceless. And when she's being wonderfully provocative.
It's really clever writing, a very good translation I have to assume. This line, coming from someone about to propose marriage made me laugh... “You will remember that my Oxen Meadows touch your Birch woods.” Or do I just have a low mind? “How? I'm speaking of those Oxen Meadows which are wedged in between your birchwoods and the Burnt Marsh.” No, I don't think it's just me. Barry Park as Stepan is fast asleep snoring not quite as loudly as “Madam Orlovskaya at the ballet” as the play opens, music playing from Tchaikovsky – a samovar by his side and Russian carvings decorating the room. Right, we're in Russia, in a wealthy house, scene set. It's really good timing, just enough to get the audience in a very giggly mood by Barry's virtuoso snores without it being forced. There's an art to snoring on stage. It's really hard. Too much it's annoying, too little and the audience doesn't notice. But just enough and with apparent natural comic timing Barry snores us to a great introduction.
His trademark phrase might have been cumbersome but he delivers it so naturally and as part of his normal speech it raises a laugh whenever we hear it, and all that sort of thing.
Apparently Chekov's regarded as dull...and he didn't like this piece, but I've seen this and the Bear now and they're both really funny and the slapstick and acting is top notch. These postcards of Russian humourous playwriting are really worth catching. I hope to see them all now!
9/10 - A great laugh and meeting an old friend years before you met him on the Sid and Nancy scale.
Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer Directed by Meredith Daniel
The Proposal is only about half an hour long, and we stayed in the theatre after the curtain came down at the interval. The Dolphin was a bit cold, so bring a blanky or a jumper if you're fortunate enough to catch these highly amusing performances. A nice warming cup of coffee beforehand will help, and interval is only half an hour away if you feel any bladder pressure.
But then you're into Black Comedy which will take you up to 9.30pm or so, I think.
The linking music ushers us along from pre revolutionary Russia to the 60's.
They're both short plays, so it's quite feasible to see them on a week night.
Black Comedy is really interesting. One of the fascinating thing is that the lighting is reversed. The play starts in darkness but it becomes clear that it is only darkness to the audience. The onstage characters animated speech and many verbal cues “You look beautiful in pink” make it plain that they can see each other and their stolen setting very well.
But then the lights go on, and the characters are plunged into 'darkness'. And it is a credit to all of the actors that we're convinced that they're in the dark. It's really funny watching Brindsley ( Cameron Clark ) performing marvellous and quite eyewatering acrobatic manuevres, trying to sneak the furniture and ornaments around without being detected by the other characters.
When a character lights a match or candle, the small spot illuminates a little patch of stage – this is a good effect, and if the candle goes out unintentionally, it's not even noticed, because the spot is still on so the actors don't miscue. It works really well and the light changes went very smoothly. I'm hoping to see this play again before its season is over, and it'll be interesting to see how they can improve with such a great performance this early in the piece.
It was written in 1965, when homosexuality was rather a taboo subject, and I can't help but wonder whether the impeccably natty character of Harold Gorringe was the inspiration for Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served? a decade or so later (and later, Grace & Favour). The character, while camp is not lampooned or particularly stereotyped though and is played with grace and great restraint by Barry Park. It would be so easy to overdo.
Another character I really liked was the electrician played by Grant Malcom – he very much reminded me of the electrician in House 3 because of his supreme confidence, knowledge and capability – and raises some interesting questions on the nature of art and critisism, is there more to Brindsley Miller's sculptures than there appears? By far my favourite character with some super lines delivered with convincing earnestness and passion.
It's disturbing just how convincing the synergy of his rejection and vilification of the rest of the cast is once they find out who he is...it's their own fault but they blame him - you can see that happening even now – let alone in the time and culture of the middle class British 60's.
One thing to watch for is Clea's (Michaela Savina) face – it's a whole mini play within the play itself and very revealing.
Bethwyn Legg played the teetolling Miss Furnival – another face to watch as she gets herself some lemonade. Her body language througout the performance never slipped!
Brianna Stanway gave a stolid performance as Carol, and you could see her listening for Brindsley's stealthy movements and trying to cover for him, with mixed results. Seeing people intently listening for what they can make out in the dark is a very powerful effect and makes the suspension of disbelief really easy. As is the sort of blankness of “no one can see me I don't have to do anything” expression. Very powerful, and Brianna was one of the people on stage who really convinced me that her character couldn't see a thing. She also had just the right tone with her fiance'.
Colonel Melkett was played by Stephen Greenacre (or is it Daniel Radcliffe – they're so hard to tell apart) and the rocking chair sequence is my favourite bit of physical humour in the whole play. His expression is priceless, and his bullying nature that ignites at any sniff of weakness is something that is a visible change in his whole manner. A lot of fun to watch. Actually when he and Harold work in tandem towards the end of the play it was very satisfying to watch the characters in complete accord and acceptance, working together in their common goal in the hunt.
Although we only see Robert Whyte briefly, his uncertainty and hesitation as he picks his way across the 'dark' room was very well done. He definitely gave the impression of being hard of hearing!
The whole play gives one the impression of the better written British sitcoms – a mix Are You Being Served with Fawlty Towers liberally sprinkled in and stirred around. This has really stood the test of time for watchability and enjoyability.
Any technical mishaps were dealt with as a trivial matter by this very proffessional troupe, in fact, some of the audience were discussing whether something that went wrong was supposed to.
I really do hope I'm able to see it again.
If you want a laugh or are interested in the history and development of modern comedy then you could do worse than to view Grads excellent production this week or next.
9/10 Super fun and making fairy floss with a merry go round on the Sid and Nancy Scale.
It's taken me all day to write this review, and you know what, I don't mind. Because it was that good and they deserve it.