Chekov in Hell opens in Circa Two with Anton Chekov in a hospital bed, clearly dying in 1904. A short time later, it is 2012 and a (great) niece of Chekov is informed that her uncle has woken up from a 100 year coma.
Victoria Abbott, as the niece Nicola, gave what I thought was a stunning performance. Her ability to do different accents was phenomenal, and she got the mannerisms spot on. She also has one of the most expressive faces I’ve seen, and could have you in stitches just by the way she pinched her eyes and lips together as the politically correct police officer was reassuring her that they are here to make her feel valued, as they update on the hunt for her uncle.
I did not expect the play to be laugh out loud funny, as it was. I thought it would be more quiet chuckle funny, but there were numerous scenes that had the audience loudly laughing. An example was the poor doctor trying to apologise for letting Chekov escape the hospital, while stressing it was not an official apology as that could open the hospital up to liability, but a non-official personal expression of regrets.
The play was written by Dan Reballato, an English playwright. It shows how Chekov experiences reality TV, feng shui, pole dancing, a Russian gangster, smartphones, sex trafficking, celebrity chefs, British policing and very amusingly Twitter. The characters are all English (or Russian) but they need no translation for a New Zealand audience.
Director Eleanor Bishop did an excellent job bringing the script to life. It was a very energetic production as characters do not just fade on and off stage, but almost pivot their way off, taking furniture with them. It is at times a very intense experience with the music and lights combining so that you almost share Chekov’s disorientation.
The cast of five all play around 11 characters each (except for the Chekov actor), which must be a huge challenge. This was I think Abbott’s first production at Circa (she only graduated in 2011), but equally worthy of mention was fellow “newbie” Simon Leary who acted with frenetic energy. Both of them are real talents, with a huge future I predict.
Nick Dunbar and Heather O’Connell also played multiple characters with ease, while Jason Whyte was convincing playing Chekov himself – and very much looked the part.
There were a couple of scenes which dragged on a bit for me, and could have been made tighter. But overall I found it a delightful satirical narrative about 21st century London. Highly recommended.
UPDATE: For those interested, a much more in depth review by John Smythe at Theatreview.