26 November 2015

Two Short Comedies by Anton Chekhov at the White Bear Theatre

My mission to see every performance of a Chekhov play took me back to the White Bear Theatre in Kennington which I first went to to see Three Sisters just over a year previously. This time it was to see two short comedies, The Proposal and The Bear.

These were part of a double-bill, with separate tickets for each part, but a previous commitment with a cloud of gin and tonic meant that I could only get to the second half. I left the cloud in Borough at 8pm and from there it was a quick dash south two stops on the Northern Line to get to the White Bear. I got there in the gap between the two shows and so had a little time to settle down with a pint or Ordinary before moving into the theatre.

Skillful positioning within the bar meant that I was one of the first into the theatre and was able to claim a place in the middle of the front row.

In The Proposal an agitated man approaching middle age approached his neighbour to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. The neighbour was agreeable but the man's agitation made the proposal a slow one and before it could be made a row erupted between them over a piece of land that both claimed that they owned. When that argument was quelled another one erupted over the relative merits of each other's dogs. The comedy came from their stupidity in having silly arguments when they were obviously a good match for each other.

The Bear covered similar territory with the same cast and similar results. This time the man called upon his neighbour to ask for a small debt to be paid urgently only to find her in widow's black for a husband who had died years previously. We soon learned that he had not been a good husband, he had had many affairs, but the widow was still feistily determined to carry her widowhood to her own grave. Both their tempers rise as the debt issue is not resolved, a duel is threatened and pistols are got. Faced with this fierce tide of mourning and anger the man falls in love. Again the comedy came from the stupidity of people and again I laughed quite a lot.

There were only three actors in the cast. Sylvie-Anne Taylor was wonderful as the two women who, between them, displayed a wide range of emotions and moved quickly between them. Marcio Mello was a convincing lover in both plays though his foreign accent seemed at times a little odd in a Chekhov scenario. Rufus Graham played the third man, the woman's father and then her manservant, with dignity and wit.

I had seen both plays before, though I did not know this until I saw them again, as part of Anton Chekhov's Vaudevilles at the Jermyn Street Theatre but that did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of seeing them this time. The comedy came from the way that the people interacted with each other rather than from any staged jokes that once heard would have lost their impact.

These were hardly Chekhov's major works but they still felt like Chekov and were well worth the miserly price of admission (£12).

After the performance I took advantage of not having to rush home to chat to some of the crew and to have another couple of pints of Ordinary. It was great to talk at length about theatre with other fans and I walked back to Vauxhall a very happy man.

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