by Pat Ashworth, The Stage, 10 February 2000
Peter Gill's new adaptation of this play at the Swan Theatre brings an ease, freshness and fluency to the text that makes it wholly of our time and draws out an unexpected well of humour.
It is the perfect vehicle for Penelope Wilton's manipulative Arkadina, lobbing her barbed, dismissive remarks around like grenades and going for the jugular with a radiant smile.
She is a catalyst in her every appearance, pricking the bubble of any seriousness or melancholy, and is only totally sincere for one fleeting moment, when she rocks Konstantin on her knee like a baby.
John Light's youthful and anguished Konstantin is well matched by Justine Waddell as Nina, first comic and then tragic in her intensity. Richard Pasco, as the ageing Sorin, shows a disarming seriousness.
Adrian Noble's direction brings out strong echoes of Hamlet, with a wall mirror at the rear of the stage reflecting the action in miniature to produce a play within a play.
Most haunting of all is Act IV, set in dim candlelight and sighing wind. The dinner party which takes place while Konstantin and Nina have their long, final exchange is tantalisingly visible and audible though glass doors — a warm, lamplit scene that throws the pair's isolation and impending tragedy into sharper relief.
Merlin Shepherd's music, with a strong element of gypsy violin, is exquisitely played by Steve Bentley-Klein. This RSC production may be the perfect vehicle to convert anyone who considers Chekhov wearisome.
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