Chekhov’s early play lacks the subtlety of his masterpieces but it contains all the hallmarks of his canon – the juxtaposition of uproarious comedy with the bleakest of tragedy, a belief in the essential meaninglessness at the heart of bourgeois life and the prescient warnings of the catastrophe that is about to engulf Russia. As ever at the National Theatre, the production values are nonpareil – Tom Pye’s amazing set for the Olivier stage even has a real pond with water-plants growing in it. And the acting is exuberantly excellent, with James McArdle particularly good in the title-role and Nina Sosanya as Anna, one of the women whose lives he destroys before the final disaster. Platonov is one third of the NT’s Young Chekhov season along with Ivanov and The Seagull. The same ensemble appears in each – and you can see all three plays on the same day if your stamina matches the actors’.
Strindberg’s furious attack on the lethally rigid class system presents a challenge and a half to seasoned actors – and many have fallen by the way. How extraordinary, then, that a trio of novices should mark their professional stage debuts by giving us a riveting version of this Swedish classic at the London Theatre in New Cross. Shereener Browne as Miss Julie masterfully negotiated the difficult no-man’s-land between imperiousness and lust. Robert Eadon, as the valet she beds, captured his character’s glee and power-driven cruelty, although he needed a tad more humanity to explain his mistress’s obsession with him. And Selwaj Jghalef was terrific as the lovelorn cook whose resigned fatalism finally erupts into moral outrage at the lovers’ behaviour. Director Harry Denford has teased fine performances from his cast and I imagine we’ll see a lot more of all of them in the future.
Pianists Elodie Griscelli and Pierre-Bastien Midali were nothing less than magnifique when they performed a concert of French music at St Alfege parish church in Greenwich. The programme ranged from Saint-Saens’ familiar Danse Macabre (the basis of the theme tune of TV’s Jonathan Creek) to the more challenging works of Poulenc and Ravel. But for me the highlight of this four-handed performance on a singe grand piano was Erik Satie’s Three Pieces In The Form Of A Pear which – this being Satie – is in fact made up of seven pieces. Griscelli and Midali absolutely nailed the composition’s sense of fun as well as its ravishing melodies, extraordinary harmonies and breathtaking complexity. There have been some wonderful free lunchtime concerts at St Alfege over the years but few have been quite as delightfully inspiring as this one.
The new show by the amazing Belarus Free Theatre is as extraordinary as you would expect – courageous, uncompromising, challenging and at times profoundly uncomfortable to watch. The theme of Nicolai Khalezin’s play is Putin’s brutal war on art and artists in Russia. And although the narrative flow is too slowed to snail’s pace by prolix exposition and propaganda, the importance of the subject matter, the shocking treatment unmasked and the astonishing physicality of a brilliant cast make this a night to remember. There’s a particularly unsettling sequence in which Maria Alyokhina is waterboarded in front of our eyes, something that really happened to her after she was jailed for her involvement in Pussy Riot. Despite the horrors, there is also a good deal of wit, including a terrific scene involving two Putin aides mourning how much political power is wielded today by the likes of Macca and Madonna. Burning Doors runs at London’s Soho Theatre until September 24. Don’t miss it.