Wild Honey review at Hampstead Theatre, London – ‘fun but inconsistent’
To most it’s called Platonov; to Michael Frayn this early untitled Chekhov play, which Frayn adapted in 1984, is Wild Honey. It marks the late Howard Davies’ final production, with directing duties taken over by Jonathan Kent – whose own Platonov finished playing at the National just a few weeks ago.
Frayn concentrates and clarifies what is, in its full form, a five hour play. A large Russian country estate, a large Russian family. Every character is either in love or related, or both. The hardest hit is rakish wit, drunk and schoolteacher Platonov who, either despite or because of his rakish witty drunken ways, has caught the eye of four – four! – women. These Russian dolls vie for Platonov’s affections, while Platonov mopes. The estate, of course, is at risk of being sold off to a nouveau riche upstart.
Frayn’s adaptation finds the farce in this drama, though there’s too much dodgy drunken acting for it to be properly funny. In fact there’s a looseness, a bagginess from the entire cast, great big gestures and flapping limbs. The bigness is matched by Rob Howell’s beautiful forest set, vertiginous and dappled with light.
Howard Ward as Colonel Triletzky, ruddy and sporting a colossal moustache, manages to flit from broad comedy to a convincing depth of feeling in an instant. He makes a particularly good counterpoint to Simon Chandler’s Porfiry, arch and prim, the classic straight man to the Colonel’s fool. Geoffrey Streatfeild makes for a bouncy Platonov, steadily descending into a hapless sot.
Although the play zips along, it feels inconsistent: the second half is broader, played to the audience much more than the first half, in which the actors are playing to each other.
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