David Hare’s adaptations of Chekhov’s early plays is presented at the National Theatre as single plays as well as a day-long trilogy, but having seen both ‘Ivanov’ and ‘The Seagull’ before, I chose to go on Saturday morning to see ‘Platonov’.
A difficult play to characterize, Chekhov wrote his first play in 1881 as a large-scale, eight-hour untitled piece, but it was never staged. This is the play which eventually became came known as ‘Platonov” (as well as being adapted under titles as different as ‘Wild Honey’, ‘Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano’, ‘Firework on the James’, ‘Don Juan’ and ‘A Country Scandal’). It was adapted for television under the present title, starring Rex Harrison, in 1971.
We meet the group who are the main characters in this drama in the garden of Anna Petrovna (Nina Sosanya), including doctor Nikolai and his wife Maria, his sister Sasha and her husband Platonov (interestingly only he is referred to by his last name from all the younger members of the group). Anna’s stepson Sergei is bringing back his young bride, Sofya, but she and Platonov share a past. In the meantime rich landowner Porfiri loves Anna and seeks her hand, but his feckless son Kiril has other ideas.
This play has moments of laugh out loud comedy, melodrama, financial skullduggery, adultery, and eventual tragedy, but the whole is an uneasy mix. In the title role, James McArdle, in broad Scots accent, gives the role of a heel, a drunk and a rotter some humanity, although I found Olivia Vinall’s Sofya a little on the hysterical side.
As Anna, Nina Sosanya is graceful yet playful, and the rich man who wishes to call in his loans, Pavel, is played with gleeful malice by David Verrey. Joshua James’ sniffy and sarcastic Nikolai is fun, while Jade Williams’ Sasha has the right mix of naive wife and distraught mother, and Nicholas Day’s red-faced Colonel is nicely comical.
Even though the programme states these plays are ‘new versions by David Hare, this particular adaptation of ‘Platonov’ was first staged in the West End in 2001. This set of plays are directed by Jonathan Kent for the Chichester Festival, and running at the National Theatre into early October 2016.