Making his stage playwriting debut, award-winning novelist and screenwriter William Boyd has neatly conflated two of Chekhov’s short stories – A Visit to Friends (1898) and the more substantial My Life (1896) – into a single dramatic comedy which embraces many of the elements familiar from the Russian playwright’s most famous works.
There’s the changing social atmosphere, which sees the landowning classes losing their property to the unrefined nouveau-riche, a marriage embarked on for the wrong reasons and doomed to result in unhappiness, a young idealist, a feckless husband (Alan Cox) too fond of booze and hopeless financial schemes, and unspoken, unrequited love which almost (but not quite) finds fulfilment – all played out against designer Lizzie Clachan’s attractively dilapidated summerhouse flanked by silver birches.
Boyd’s adapted combination doesn’t match the depth of Chekhov’s masterly plays (The Cherry Orchard was itself an expansion of the shorter tale’s material).
But Nina Raine’s sympathetic, well cast production is always watchable and is blessed with exceptionally strong performances from Tamsin Greig (almost unbearably moving as outwardly resilient, no-longer-young doctor, Varia) and Iain Glen as charismatic but indecisive Kolia – now a successful Moscow lawyer visiting after a decade away, but still an emotional infant unable to commit.
Hampstead, Eton Avenue, NW3 3EU
Tube: Swiss Cottage
Until 6th April
Photo: Manuel Harlan