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Thursday 19 September 2013

The Proposal – The Bear, 2 short plays by Anton Chekhov, St James Theatre, London, 9* out of 10

For a 21st century city-dweller who is smartphone-connected and desirous of participating fully in many aspects of life - private, professional, social, cultural - so many needs wants and requests, real and imagined, are vying for his attention that certain activities must be undertaken simultaneously.

So it is a good thing that thanks to the St. James Theatre office and other workers in London’s Victoria district can now munch their organic lunch-time salads, while at the same time watching some highly entertaining quality theatre in a very pleasant cultural space. 

They are currently being marvellously entertained by two short pieces signed Anton Chekhov, a 19th century Russian genius, who had a great sense of humour and an eye for the most human of our human traits - losing our cool completely, when it comes to wooing or being wooed by, a potential life-partner. 

In The Proposal the 35-year-old land-owner Lomov (Matthew McPherson) intends to make a marriage proposal to his neighbour’s daughter (Nadia Hynes). But to the chagrin of the latter, other topics than love and marriage arouse the potential couple’s passions.

In The Bear we meet a Smirnov (Gary Sefton), a middle-aged landowner whose solvency depends on immediately collecting a debt from a recently widowed attractive lady (Caroline Colomei) who appears determined to grieve forever for her deceased but undeserving wealthy landowner husband. The angered Smirnov becomes something like Vladimir Putin’s manic cousin including a compulsion for showing off his muscle-packed torso to the adoring multitude (; the Russian for “bear” is medved, without –iev, but still).  In trying desperately and not very successfully to collect the debt Smirnov in turn unleashes the widow’s suppressed passions to the point where quivering duelling pistols can take on phallic proportions.  

This double bill is true farce at its most farcical and yet Chekhov’s talent imbues the plays with an acute understanding of human nature, giving them a special quality; the characters on stage are ridiculous - and disconcertingly like you and me in what we might think of as our less glorious moments!

In the energetic production directed by Edward Hulme, the enthusiastic cast of the Butterfly Company make the Studio Theatre’s space their own.  They also establish great contact with the audience. Both male leads clearly enjoy skilfully squeezing every drop of comedy out of their hilarious characters.

Pure afternoon delight.


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