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Chekhov in Hell at Soho Theatre

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by Lucy Popescu (subscribe)
I'm the author of the ethical travel book, The Good Tourist. I also regularly review books, film and theatre.
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It's a terrific idea for a play - Anton Chekhov, one of Russia's greatest writers, wakes up from 100 years of sleep to find himself confronted by 21st century Britain but one that is not always well executed.

Chekhov in Hell starts well. The prologue with Chekhov on his deathbed sipping a last glass of champagne - is conducted in Russian and German giving us a sense of the dislocation that Chekhov feels when he is thrust into a whole new world. But when he wakes up in a NHS hospital and, shortly afterwards walks out onto the mean streets of London, it begins to go awry.

Here he meets a variety of colourful characters from fashion designers, celebrity chefs and gangsters to rappers and lap dancers.

Chekhov moves through this series of encounters increasingly baffled by the British way of life. The problem is that most of the people he runs into are caricatures and we are never really given Chekhov's response to this alien landscape other than the occasional raised eyebrow.

There are moments of humour - the overly sympathetic police community support officer and the survivors' group competing in the misery stakes - are especially funny - but for the most part the dialogue is banal and the situations in which Chekhov finds himself lack credibility -- the treatment of human trafficking, in particular, is unnecessarily trivialised.

Dan Rebellato play also pays scant regard to the social and cultural problems of 19th century Russia that Chekhov so acutely observed in his work, nor does it offer any profound insight into our contemporary lives.

The cast give their all (although he doesn't say much, Simon Scardifield exudes charisma and makes a sympathetic Chekhov) and there were certainly members of the audience who seemed to enjoy this largely light-hearted romp, but I yearned for something more substantial and affecting. By the end, I didn't care very much whether Chekhov was in heaven or hell.

For information regarding ticketing and performance times, please see the Soho Theatre website.
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Why? Its a terrific idea for a play
When: Running until14 May 2011
Where: 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE
Cost: 10 - 15
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