Afterplay & The Bear (3 stars)

Byre Theatre, St Andrews, Wed 11 Apr, then touring


The loneliness, repression and feelings of ennui which are part of so many lives was perhaps never better captured than by Chekov. Little wonder, then, that Brian Friel, much of whose work runs along similar lines, should have written an homage to the master, here brought to Scotland by Attic Theatre.

Friel’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Bear sees a drunken semi-bankrupt mercenary trader (Paul Boyle) arrive at the home of a widow (Ruth Gibson) in long suffering mourning for her wastrel husband. The visitor demands water, vodka and finally a duel with the widow over a debt left by her husband. The farcical action escalates, and the piece comes to a pleasing black-comic finale, but in truth, Jenny Lee’s production takes a little too long to spring its trap.

The second piece of this double bill, an original work built around an accidental meeting in a café between Sonya from Uncle Vanya (Deborah Maclaren) and Andrey from Three Sisters (Edmund Kente) is altogether more emotionally fulfilling. Although a good deal of time is spent explaining the events of the plays the characters are from, the sense of perspective lent by each viewpoint becomes intriguing. Each character, burdened by poverty, lost love and early misjudgements in life, engage in deception of both themselves and their listener, yet the sense of sad elegiac reflection that hangs over them makes them warm, flawed and loveable. Good performances here, particularly from Maclaren, make for intense, engaging theatre.

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