Reviews: Irish homage to Chekhov

Sean Gallagher and Niamh Cusack in Afterplay at the Crucible Studio, Feb 6 to March 1, 2014

Sean Gallagher and Niamh Cusack in Afterplay at the Crucible Studio, Feb 6 to March 1, 2014

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Afterplay

Crucible Studio

Two lonely people sitting in a Russian café and chatting about their lives doesn’t sound like a riveting 50 minutes of theatre.

But this is no ordinary couple and this is no ordinary play. This is Irish playwright Brian Friel’s homage to Chekhov, and the two people are characters from the Russian writer’s plays: Sonya from Uncle Vanya, and Andrey from The Three Sisters, 20 years on.

Down-at-heel Andrey (Sean Gallagher) is a musician who tells tall tales, while Sonya (Niamh Cusack) is struggling single-handedly to keep her estate running. Their early conversation at first conceals their frustrations and disappointments, but this being Friel channelling Chekhov, it’s not long before the vodka flows and leads into a fascinating study of dashed dreams, failure and fatalism, but livened by a spirit of defiance – and in Sonya’s case, her enduring if unsatisfactory love for Astrov from Uncle Vanya.

“The endless tundra of aloneness stretches before me. Fortitude is required...we stagger on,” she declares memorably at one point. And that’s what this intense two-hander is all about – a Chekovian paean to the human spirit to carry on, stoically, through life’s vicissitudes.

Both actors are deeply moving as their characters establish a brief but meaningful friendship; Gallagher perfectly capturing Andrey’s shabby nervousness, and Cusack quite wonderful as the not-so-quietly desperate, gallant Sonya.

The only quibble is that Afterplay is too short – you come away wanting more.

Jane Tadman

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Lyceum

Not many semi-illiterate Oregon backwoodsman read Plutarch. But that is the inspiration for this unlikely story which began its modern life in the golden age of classic MGM musicals. The abduction of the Sabine women by the ancient Romans is mirrored by the brothers who are desperate for wives.

But forget the ridiculous plot and just enjoy some of the best production numbers you will see on the Lyceum stage this year. It’s just a pity there aren’t more of them. With this array of dance talent on stage they deserve to show off more of director and choreographer Patti Colombo’s Broadway brilliance.

Sam Attwater gets star billing as Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel in the movie) but he was nowhere to be seen on opening night and Alex Hammond stepped manfully into the breach. Opposite him, as the woman who started as no more than a slave to the farm full of Adam’s siblings was Helena Blackman. Her portrayal of Milly charms from start to finish.

Clever settings were more convincing than those in the film and the overall, the pace of the show picked up after a slow start. Act one ends abruptly but the second act whizzes by with a rousing number to finish.

Alan Powell

A Murder is Announced

Ecclesall Parish Hall

First staged in 1956 this is vintage Agatha Christie; a whodunnit with a devious plot that twists and turns and is packed with trademark red herrings.

It’s set in a lost of world of sherry at six and church on Sunday that’s nicely evoked by this Ecclesall Theatre Company production ably directed by Sue Preston with good set design from David Smith and co.

Meg Crook is a delight as Miss Marple; she really is the embodiment of Christie’s “little sleuth” Bill Darwin is impressive too as the urbane Inspector Craddock.

Very assured playing all round from Michelle Vinson, Jane Shawyer, Ashleigh Gray, James Travis, Lydia Harrison, Barbara Bradburn and Mathew Carr with a standout performance from Lola Panic as the fiery foreign maid, Mitzy.

Marion Haywood