Review: In and Out of Chekhov’s Shorts, Southwark Playhouse

In and Out of Chekhov’s Shorts offers a playfully different take on the Russian playwright at Southwark Playhouse

“God how unhappy I am, and nobody knows”

In and Out of Chekhov’s Shorts certainly has a great title but presented here by Dragonboy Productions, it also has a unique take on the great Russian dramatist. Adapted by Eliot Giuralarocca, this collection of five short stories has been structured into a single experience, a group of Russian travelling players gathered for our pleasure and bringing a lightness to this Chekhovian world that we don’t often get to see in his plays.

That’s not to say that we’re looking at Chekhov’s stand-up era here. The people who populate The Lady with the Little Dog, The Chemist’s Wife, At a Summer Villa, An Avenger and The Bear are entirely recognisable in their endless ennui and vexation at life. But Giuralarocca, who also directs, increasingly focuses on the farce of it all, never letting the neurotic behaviour be taken too seriously as he subtly links the tales as all different facets of the human experience.

Using an actor musician company of five proves a canny move. Chris Agha, Verity Bajoria, Graeme Dalling, Elisabeth Snegir and Giuralarocca who performs on top of all his other roles relish the opportunity to both multi-role across all the stories but also to carry some of those characters from one to the other, creating connective tissue across the show. The script sometimes has its challenges as it seeks to meld dialogue and narration with some heavy-duty monologuing but they pretty much sell it.

The real joy comes through Tom Neill’s original songs, drawing deeply from the well of Russian folk traditions. Not only are they covering multiple roles but the company also play multiple instruments, bringing in clarinet, accordion, flute, fiddle, guitar and more alongside some cracking piano playing and stunning choral work to really flesh out the complex emotional worlds underscoring the storytelling here.

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