Afterplay by Sewell Barn Theatre – photo supplied
The capable Sewell BarnCompany are taking us to Russia for their latest offering. They have brought together three short one act plays which look at life through a distinctly Russian filter.
One work is by Chekhov, the other two by a playwright sometimes known as the ‘Irish Chekhov’, Brian Friel. All three are enjoyable insights into the developing relationship between two people, each with a cast of just two.
The first, The Yalta Game by Friel shows us a relationship between a man and woman who meet by chance in the Crimean resort of Yalta. Both married to other people they find themselves embarked on a passionate affair that ultimately resurfaces when they return to home and work in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Steven Scase is Dmitry Gurov, who passes his time in Yalta cafés speculating about the lives of those he observes. Poppy Hiscox is Anna Sergeyevna, a 22 year old young bride whose husband cannot join her. Dmitry flirts with Anna, who is soon drawn into a passionate affair with him. The testing time comes when the holidays stops, but the relationship does not. Both give an assured and nicely nuanced performance that shows just how an affair can develop.
Afterplay, the second Friel piece, looks at the relationship between a man and woman who meet by chance in a Moscow cafe in the 1920s. Sonya (Dawn Brindle) is a landowner trying to sort out financial problems on her large farm, Andrey (Jen Alexander) is a musician. Starting as passing strangers across a café table they become more open with each other, helped by a sneaky flask of vodka from her bag. But all is not as it seems, and as they become more interested in each other they each backtrack on the embellished descriptions of themselves that they first presented with. Director Tony Fullwood again coaxes accomplished performances from the actors who create two characters who leave us with more questions than answers.
The third play is Swansong by Anton Chekhov, an emotional look at the end of the career of a popular stage actor, expressed in a conversation with his prompter. David White is the eighty-something Vasili, stuck in the theatre after everyone has gone home and feeling old and a bit hopeless. He recites into the shadows, only to find that in those shadows lurks Nikita, the prompter, who is homeless so sleeps in the dressing room when everyone has gone. The two have a poignant discussion about life, and its passing.
With minimal stage furniture these three plays each create a persuasive atmosphere of time and place and an insight into a culture which seems familiar yet very different, redolent of the great works of Russian literature that many of us will have enjoyed.
The steeply raked seats of the Sewell Barn give a pleasantly intimate setting for these three glimpses into life in Russia, and will not disappoint audiences who discover this little treasure of Norwich North, tucked away in school grounds of Constitution Hill. If you have not been there before, give this production a look. I guarantee that it will send you home satisfied yet thoughtful, inspired by three well written pieces.
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, November 2021
Three Russian Encounters is at the Sewell Barn Theatre 25-27 November and 1-4 December at 7.30 pm, with a matinee on 4th December at 2.30pm. For more information go to www.sewellbarn.org