Chekhov's first play Platonov has been given a contemporary twist in a new adaption at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre. Catherine Vonledebur reports.
ACTORS Jack Laskey and Marianne Oldham have left London behind to play Vodka-drinking disaffected Russian thirty-somethings.
The talented pair are performing in Sons Without Fathers; a new adaptation of Chekhov’s rarely performed first play Platonov, about a village schoolteacher, lured into a series of extra-marital affairs.
It is a co-production between Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and London’s Arcola Theatre in Hackney, the same team who created the critically-acclaimed revival of Uncle Vanya in 2011, directed by Helena Kaut-Howson..
Thirty-year-old RADA trained Jack, is playing the lead, Platonov. He has already been picked out by some critics as one of the “hottest young men on stage”.
“Helena has adapted the play herself,” he explains. “She has condensed it and focused on the disaffected youth.
“Platonov is a loose cannon, a maverick. He says what’s going on in his head and exposes people’s hypocrisy. But this increases their attraction to him.
“It’s a wonderful privilege to work with Helena for the first time.”
Marianne, aged 31, is Sophia, one of the many women in the play attracted to Platonov.
“People are drawn to Platonov. You find him frustrating but you want to change and help him,” she says.
“My character Sophia has got used to a rich, privileged lifestyle. Platonov changes her perspective, he makes her look at what’s real.”
It is the second time Marianne has worked with Helena. She played the beautiful Yelena in Uncle Vanya two years ago at The Belgrade and received high praise for “a wonderfully luminous, languorous performance”.
One national newspaper critic wrote: “...if Oldham isn’t a big star sometime soon, I’ll down a samovar’s worth of cold tea in penance.”
“It’s really exciting to work with Helena again and to be back in Coventry,” she says.
“Uncle Vanya happened very naturally. Helena creates a space where she gets the characters to play with each other. It felt really fun to do and I have really fond memories.”
For Sons Without Fathers the Polish-born theatre director has set the action in modern Russia.
“This version focuses on one theme only; the predicament of the younger
generation left adrift in a world without hope,” Helena explains.
“Relocating the action to Russia of today, Sons Without Fathers brings to the surface the surprisingly modern preoccupations of the original.
“The audience will recognise the quintessential Chekhov, but the experience will be unlike anything they may associate with his later plays.”
Anton Chekhov wrote Platonov while he was still a teenage medical student – the manuscript was only discovered after his death. This new production promises to unveil a funnier, more brutal and wildly passionate side to the young Chekhov. Helena focuses on a group of disaffected thirty-somethings who attempt to fill the void in their lives with sex and vodka.
Laughing, Jack says: “Finding our inner-Vodka drinkers is something we have to work on.”
He adds: “Platonov is quite an unwieldy beast. Chekhov wrote it when he was just 19. It has an immaturity and is quite different to the Chekhov we know. It’s quite messy and unpredictable.”
“The women are really strong, really brilliant, beautiful characters and the men are at their mercy. It’s something quite unique.
“I would love to go to Russia – it’s an amazing language. I have seen Platonov performed in Russian at the Barbican – it was amazingly gutsy.
“Helena’s version is absolutely not a museum piece, it feels very relevant.”
Originally Platonov was six to eight hours long, but Helena has reduced the play to a running time of around 2hrs 45 minutes.
Jack grew up in Ipswich and is the youngest of three brothers. His father is a poet and his mother, a retired GP.
Two of the 30-year-old’s earliest performances as a child were in The Railway Children and The Secret Garden at the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. While at school he was a member of the Red Rose Chain Theatre and Film Company in Suffolk.
In 2008 he made his Royal Shakespeare Company debut, playing Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, Biondello in The Taming of the Shrew and Robert Hooke in The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes.
Marianne grew up in Buckinghamshire and now lives in London.
“I didn’t want to do anything else but act,” she says.
Most recently she starred in BBC1’s recent Birmingham-based drama WPC 56, about Gina Dawson, the first woman police constable to serve in her hometown in 1956. Marianne played Deborah Burns the DCI’s 28-year-old fragile wife, who has a breakdown.
So, what was it like playing a 1950s desperate housewife?
“I always get to lose the plot. It was really fun to do and the dresses were lovely. I was part of a great team. It was very fast work, quite intense,” she explains.
* Sons Without Fathers runs in the B2 Auditorium at The Belgrade, Coventry from Saturday, April 13 to Saturday, May 4. For tickets: 024 7655 3055/