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April 2003
Review: Pennington's
bouncing Chekhov

Michael Pennington as Anton Chekhov
Michael Pennington looked uncannily like Chekhov - especially in black-and-white.

English Touring Theatre cancelled its play, but actor Michael Pennington bounced in with a one-man show.

Our reviewer didn't mind at all.

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Anton Chekhov
April 1 - 5
Oxford Playhouse

By Abigail Uden

The Director, Stephen Unwin, was very apologetic.

Sudden illness has meant that the English Touring theatre's performances of John Gabriel Borkman have had to be cancelled this week in Oxford.

Good job that cast member Michael Pennington has a one-man show up his sleeve, then....

His production of Anton Chekhov, we are told, comes out of a 15-year love affair with the writer and his work.

We see Pennington, as Chekhov, reminiscing about his life, his writing techniques and his relationship with the theatre.

At one point Pennington has the house lights brought up so he can talk to the audience directly, and give them the choice about which Chekhov play they would like to hear more about.

Everything in the performance was said or written by Chekhov himself, and what emerges is what extraordinary good company the writer must have been.

Made up to look uncannily like the portaits of the Russian, Pennington delivers his material beautifully.

During the evening he takes you with him along paths of beauty (a character is decribed as someone who "breathes happiness"), of humour (who could resist Chekhov's obvious delight in extolling the virtues of idleness and the desire to "drink champagne and love a fat girl"?) and, of course of sadness.

Chekhov's words are still intensely powerful.

For example, the part of the show where he describes going to observe conditions in a prison in Siberia, is heartrending, yet it is spoken without obvious anger or outrage.

In another lyrical passage, Pennington shows Chekhov going to the core of the human condition. What is the point, he questions, in writing a story about a man travelling to the north pole in a submarine, when in real life "people have dinner - that's what they do."

Anton Chekhov, as a one man show, is a little bit of an oddity to be sure.

Whether it is a fitting substitute for Ibsen, I don't know, but it holds its own as an evening of wit and literary merit, with some wise homespun advice thrown in.

And thanks to this performance, when my relatives next come to stay I will call to mind these words of Chekhovian wisdom: "Be thankful that they are not the police."

Anton Chekhov
April 1 - 5
Oxford Playhouse

Please ring the box office on 01865 305305 for details of times and tickets

 

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