Written by: Dan Rebellato; Directed by: Eleanor Bishop; Circa, 16 May, 7:30pm
Cast: Victoria Abbot, Nick Dunbar, Simon Leary, Heather O’Carroll and Jason Whyte
The set is composed of a series of irregularly- sized, rectangular screens of white cloth. Electric white light projects on the screens from behind. Over the speakers, electrosynth muzak beeps. We wait. Expectation tangs in the air. Then it begins: an onslaught of sound, vision, and ideas that are as stunning in their conception as they are as brilliant in their execution.
The premise is simple: Anton Chekhov appears to die in the opening scene, but somehow wakes in the next scene, 100 years later, in a London hospital. After leaving the hospital, he wanders around the city, observing the people who typify our horribly fucked-up society–an uber- camp fashion designer who revels in making women want to wear ugly clothes; a people-smuggling Russian mobster; a tech start-up “genius” who seems to have severely missed the boat, and an NHS doctor who ejaculates that it is so good to finally accept responsibility for a mistake– that he gets to open up to him because he is so “easy to talk to.” Although Chekhov’s path through the city seems random, it forms the structure of the play and provides a way for us to see just how much we have lost our way.
What Chekhov seeks is to step through into the whiteness behind it all. His refrain, “What does it mean?” becomes our refrain also. Surely the message of Chekhov in Hell is not simply to point out that our response to technology is to use it to put a dollar-value on everything, including humans, or that we see houses as boxes to store our bodies in? Perhaps we are being asked to make the world just a little bit better by making that one person completely happy, even if to do so is to be totally humiliated and to accept violent, power-polluted sex. Or, we may just need to remember: remember the millions that continually die (or perhaps they are dying, perpetually cursed to never quite complete the act of their demise) in Irina’s rapid-fire summary of the 20th Century, delivered in Russian; remember the joy that we felt when people were the centre of society.
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And Circa’s production of Chekhov in Hell does full justice to Rebellato’s fantastic script. Gareth Hobbs’ sound design provides a constant score that brilliantly combines with Andrew Simpson’s frenetic AV collages to perfectly capture the sense that we are at once not quite in control anymore and that we are inundated with stimuli. These design elements combine with excellent direction and dedicated acting to create a show that is, in a word, stunning.
Chekhov in Hell runs until 9 June, Tuesday to Saturday 7.30 pm, Sunday 4.30pm. Tickets: Adults $46, Students $38, <25 $25