Combining Anton Chekhov’s The Proposal and The Bear into one production must have been both challenging and exciting for The Nottingham New Theatre. As a script being translated from its original language of Russian, the audience instinctively fears that that we may loose some colloquial delivery of language or dramatic style intended by the playwright. However, these concerns were quickly dissolved by this refreshing and lively take on two of Chekhov’s comedic pieces. Certainly, the constant rumble of laughter rippling through the audience during tonight’s performance was evidence that both director (Emily Zinkin) and Producer (Kiran Benawra) successfully addressed the comedic and overtly theatrical tones imagined by the writer.
The Proposal began with the uncontrollably animated Ivan (Jack Revell) setting us squirming in our seats as he stuttered and clutched at his heart as a result of the terrifying and domineering Chubukov (Becca Clee). Revell’s energetic performance was maintained convincingly throughout the act, with the audience being completely captured by his suffering at the hands of the stubborn Natalya (Harriet Evans) and Chubukov.
Although the character of Natalya was played with some conviction, at times it lacked the authenticity that was continually present in the characters of Ivan and Chubukov. As the act reached its climax in tension, Ivan falls to the floor in a flurry of exasperation, appearing physically affected by the scenes argument. Simultaneously the audience bursts into laughter at the almost slapstick quality of the scene. The Proposal was overall delivered with professionalism and a large dose of wit, the actors were not hindered by the minimalist style of staging, which ultimately allowed the performers to focus on the emotion of the piece, giving the scene an uncluttered feel.
I must say that before the evening’s performance, I had some reservations about the merging of two separate plays. However, the fluidity between the two performances was remarkably strong. Visually, there remained three characters on stage in both acts, with the dynamic of masculine/feminine tension also aiding the continuity.The Bear opens with the serene Popova (Laura Cremona) appearing to embody dejection and grief. However, despite Popova’s best efforts to retain a sense of mourning, the audience quickly gives in to the humour of the scene with her servant Luka (Emily Brady) making condescending jokes that force Popova’s sincerity into the shadows. However, it is the entrance of the bombastic Smirnov (Nick Walters) that propelled the scene in a more dramatic comedic direction. Walters’s interpretation of Smirnov was gregariously exuberant and completely entertaining, with his facial expressions and mannerisms displaying his absolute immersion in the character. As the act comes to a close, we are brought back to a degree of integrity with the flirtatious relationship that begins to develop between Popova and Smirnov as the lights fade out.
Overall, a thoroughly entertaining performance that was compelling in its individuality and comedic value.
Olivia O’Shaughnessy – Tredwell
See The Proposal and The Bear performed in the Performing Arts Studio , Tuesday 20th November, 7pm. Contact [email protected] for tickets.