Wild Honey, Hampstead Theatre, review: ‘Energetic revival of the rambling original’

08:00 16 December 2016

WILD HONEY by Checkhov,   Hampstead Theatre. Credit: Johan Persson

WILD HONEY by Checkhov, Hampstead Theatre. Credit: Johan Persson

Johan Persson

Trapped in a frustrating marriage to unworldly Sasha, local schoolteacher Platonov ricochets between sophisticated widower Anna, newly married beauty Sofya and weeping, dull Marya.

“Are you really such a terrible Don Juan,” teases one of Platanov’s would-be lovers in Michael Frayn’s Wild Honey - a crisp adaptation of Chekhov’s first play only named after its philandering anti-hero following Chekhov’s death.

David Hare’s version was recently directed by Howard Davies with Jonathan Kent at the National Theatre and now a revival of Frayn’s take on the rambling original (equally well truncated here), is given another energetic interpretation with one key shift: the highlighting of existential angst in Geoffrey Streatfeild’s womanizer powers this failed ‘second Byron,’ with Chekhov’s love of Hamlet strongly in evidence.

Trapped in a frustrating marriage to unworldly Sasha (Rebecca Humphries) local schoolteacher Platonov ricochets between sophisticated widower Anna (Justine Mitchell), newly married beauty Sofya (Sophie Rundle) and weeping, dull Marya (Jo Herbert).

An exquisite birch-tree set designed by Rob Howell soars into the rafters and trees double as houses as the thwarted lovers caper around the stage subsumed in futility.

But despite a heavy dose of Noises Off high-energy farce in the second half, the production favours a melancholy look at the petty self-preoccupations of a community on the brink of seismic industrial and social changes with Platonov’s compulsive sexual appetite dramatized as an expression of depression – a choice that renders this version strikingly contemporary.

The issue of women’s emancipation and frustrated intelligence is made crystal-clear through Mitchell’s finely nuanced, arch Anna. Working class characters are given depth and dignity.

Matthew Flynn as Osip provides impressive menace. If the angst angle makes it harder to fathom why multiple women would see self-pitying Platonov as a credible ticket out of rural torpor (despite the shiny new rail track promising a fast transit post elopement), there’s many fine comic lines and some neat firework effects to lighten the load.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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