1 June 2013

Platonov at the Arcola Theatre


I discovered the wonderful Arcola Theatre in Dalston just two years ago with Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. I fell in love with both and have been back to the Arcola a dozen times since and have travelled across London for more Chekhovs.

So when the Arcola announced that they were putting on Platonov, also known as Sons Without Fathers, I was in quick to get my ticket.

I was not disappointed. Nor was I just happy. I was deliriously entertained.

The good times started before the play started. This was another carefully crafted day and I arrived in Dalston (a simple hop on the London Overground from Richmond) in plenty of time to do some local exploring and to have lunch.

Immediately opposite Dalston Kingsland station is the vibrant Ridley Road Market. The unusual fruits and vegetables were the most interesting things on show closely followed by some of the colourful cloths. I also took the opportunity to revisit the Eastern Curve Garden before heading back to the Arcola to eat.

Relaxed, fed and watered I descended in to the bowels of the theatre to claim a front-row seat.

The set was suitably sparse and brutal. The feeling was of metal rather than wood and that added to the bleakness.

The large cast includes Platonov, a thirty-something teacher, his wife, her brother (the expected Doctor), a local gangster, a young man from a newly rich family, an upper-class and classy widow and a young married couple.

The play is driven by Platonov's dalliances with women who all seem to be besotted by him and three of them pursue him vigorously. He is too weak and confused to make a decision that he can stick with, other than to have the most fun that he can at that moment.

Along the way the doctor drinks a lot, as does Platonov, the gangster is commissioned to kill Platonov but offers to do it for free, lots of discussions are had about how the post-revolution (or post Glasnost) world has just created a new class of wealthy people but has delivered nothing to the working-class.

The great, and overwhelming strength of the play is the rich mix of characters and their interactions.

To work, a play like this needs a good cast and this one is blessed with an excellent one. The least effective actor (in my opinion) was still reasonable and the best (also in my opinion) was the young wife who wanted to run away with Platonov and was astonishingly good and I could not help but share her pains.

There is an ending, which I won't reveal (it is Chekhov so you can guess) and that brings closure to the mess that has gone on before but it is that near three hours of mess that is the play's delight as the mood swings violently through drunken revelry, deep passion, menace, despair, jealously, anger and more.

In case you did not guess, I absolutely loved it. Another big tick in the boxes marked Arcola and Chekhov.

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