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Chekhov’s First Play review at Bristol Old Vic – ‘theatre for theatre geeks’

Scene from Chekhov's First Play at Bristol Old Vic. Scene from Chekhov's First Play at Bristol Old Vic.

“I haven’t been feeling myself recently. By which I mean ever.” This saying recurs throughout Dead Centre’s production of Chekhov’s First Play and its uncertainty is disingenuous. There is nothing vague about this brilliant take, not just on the works of Chekhov, but on the very concept of theatrical performance.

Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd have produced a show that is a perceptive exploration of the staging of theatre – and also very funny. It’s an appealing unpretentious approach.

First performed in Dublin by Dead Centre, the company behind the acclaimed Lippy, it’s receiving its UK premiere as part of Bristol’s Mayfest. It’s a piece which exudes the essence of Chekhov. A staging of the ‘unstagable’ Platonov is explained to the audience via a director’s commentary through headphones. Moukarzel offers a dry explanation tackling his own inability to play God with the cast – they say the lines wrong, they get pregnant after accepting the role – and also remorse at his over-enthusiastic cuts to the text.

It’s a production that those working in the world of theatre will appreciate. It is theatre for theatre geeks, yet in its light-heartedness it remains entirely accessible.

Andrew Clancy’s immaculate redbrick set provides the perfect backdrop on which to wreak havoc. It’s a work which beautifully demonstrates that the only thing one really needs to appreciate theatre is a desire to enjoy and have fun with it.

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Dead Centre's astute, perceptive and funny dismantling of Chekhov and of theatre