NTW17 A PROVINCIAL LIFE
5 March 2012
A Provincial Life see’s the return of National Theatre Wales for their newest round of productions. Staging it in the newly refurbished Sherman Cymru it is written and directed by acclaimed director Peter Gill who returns to his native city after a glittering career spanning half a century.
Originally adapted from Chekhov’s short story ‘My Life’ in 1966, it brings with it a timely poignancy, resonating with much of the audience, as today many struggle with the financial consequences of social mobility, and the continuing search for equality. Following Misail we watch as a young man struggling to reconcile his position of privilege with that of the working life in 1890’s Russia: a time when social conventions were under scrutiny and political ideal’s changing, Karl Marx having only died in 1883. Misail’s eventually shuns his status and inheritance to take up a work man’s life, only to regain some social standing in his marriage to Maria. His hopes of success in their venture are later dashed when she realises their failure and deserts him and the estate to return to privilege.
Much of Chekhov’s work is a careful weave of tragedy and comic genius, and A Provincial Life capture’s this mix eloquently, as Ivan (John Paul-Macleod) provides humorous interludes against the expansive emotional ponderings and familial arguments. It is Boris (Lee Haven-Jones) the flighty, loveable, forever on the move, yet responsible doctor who provides the debating table for Misail’s reckonings. Nicholas Shaw’s portrayal of Misail is faultless yet his character is not the life and soul of the piece, its life and soul is made up of the endearing, loveable and bizarre character’s Misail seems to attract. The strong cast adds a Welsh flavour as the Chekhovian wit fits the stronger accents like a glove.
Set against a stark backdrop of wooden boards the props are a fabulous, lavish mix period furniture and intricate fixtures, employed perfectly by the cast. There is a seamlessness between scene changes as the costumed ensemble act as stage hands, in some ways giving their portrayal of the lower classes, of servants an extra dimension and clarity. The lighting was simple and very effective, depicting the turn of the seasons as well as reflecting the scene’s mood. The cliff hanger style ending at the interval was a very ingenious technique, with the cast mid step as the curtain dropped
At almost 3 hours the production did feel over-long, particularly for a short-story adaptation. There were moments where the piece intentionally slows, giving the audience chance to digest and ponder the ideas and lives before them. These moments stretch the emotional connections the audience has gained a little too far.
Chekhov’s My Life has Misail as the narrator and whereas A Provincial Life has him as the protagonist and the parade of monologues are a testament to the story’s original form, as a result the play sits on the fence and the levels of action are inconsistent. At the finale the format fully shifts and Misail finally takes up the narrator role, standing alone and bereft in the final scene to recount the death of his sister – the price she pays for flouting conventions – and the ideal’s he has come to terms with. The shift in theatrical device is a little disorientating, having been given Misail as hero and idealist until that point. In saying that, the finale is emotional and heart rending: a testament to the convincing and compelling skills of the whole NTW team.
Continues at Sherman Cymru until 17TH March
For more reviews please visit http://paradeisosgwynfor.blogspot.com/
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A shorter review of A Provincial Life is posted on Buzz Magazine online, as Stage Editor. I have altered it, thanks to the wonders of the internet I realised my history mistake after posting!
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