12th May 2016
When looking for foundation pieces for a new play, the combination of a silent disco, a whole lot of psychedelia and a decadent plot by a teenage Russian literary giant wouldn’t be the most obvious of starting points for most people but then writer/performer/co-director Bush Moukarzel and writer/co-director Ben Kidd are not men to shirk a challenge (see 2012’s Souvenir or 2013’s Lippy – which played at last years Mayfest).
Despite the obvious pitfalls and challenges, the two men have come up with one of the most innovative and memorable theatre pieces you could imagine and a wonderful start to this years Mayfest.
What Anton Chekov would make of the play that bears his name is anybody guess, but surely he couldn’t help but be impressed by the interesting and unique story telling techniques employed by Dead Centre to portray this mangled weave of ideas.
From the start Chekov’s First Play makes a bold attempt to be unlike anything you have ever seen.
After asking each member of the audience to don headphones, Moukarzel runs a quick sound check (“you should hear this in your right ear, this in your left ear”), all the time brandishing a gun like a madman with a vendetta (noting himself that “I need to explain the gun don’t I”).
His sprawling opening monologue sets the tone for the first half of the performance as he explains that “the play is very complicated and messy, so I thought it’d be good to have a director’s commentary so I could explain what’s going on.” At the same time offering as much contempt as is possible for the material (“It’s not a good play, but it’s hugely ambitious”).
Using the façade of an elegant Russian stately home as its backdrop, the opening sequence could suggest something much grander, but there is as much farce and buffoonery to begin with as there is sophisticated content. Especially as the delivery of all this grousing is provided with expert deadpan comedic timing.
Although presented with a uniquely fresh voice, there are constant nods to the tone and tenor of Chekov. The complicated jumble that is life is played out just as Chekov, or many of his peers from the golden age of Russian literature, would be familiar with – introverted introspection that explores the very deepest recesses of the mind or human soul, in a way that at first glance would seem very life like but on closer inspection is in fact a completely artificial construct.
As the story moves forward on stage, the narrative gradually melts down, as it descends into ever-greater cogitation, at which point the performance takes a violent shift from, what could be described as, ‘for us’ to ‘within us’.
Giant wrecking balls smeared in viscous flammable substances replace samovars as voiceover kings (Bank of Ireland the chief amongst his great exploits) are forced to tears as the cast all lay bare the dark truths of their lives.
With many twists and turns into this whirlpool of mayhem the final scenes are startling as they are perplexing.
Brilliantly bizarre and hilariously discombobulating, Chekov’s First Play is simply unforgettable theatre.
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