European Arts Company made a one night stop off at The Brunton in Musselburgh as part of their 2017 tour with “Chekhov’s Shorts”. As the name implies, this is a collection of five of the Russian born writer and playwright’s short plays – “The Evils of Tobacco”, “The Dimwit”, “The Bear”, “Swan Song” and “The Proposal”. If, like me, you have generally thought of Chekhov’s works as heavyweight and very serious, then these five light comedy pieces will make you re-appraise this writer very quickly.
All five performances are brought to the stage by only three performers- Rupert Mason, Eva Savage and Will Hartley, and it is a pleasure to watch these three skilled performers change like chameleons into so many different characters not only through dialogue but body language too. These works are a mixture of monologue (“The Evils of Tobacco”), and two and three part “shorts”, and watching our cast move between the different skills required for each different play is in itself interesting to watch.
All of these performances, and in particular the monologues which Rupert Mason seems to excel in, are what I call “nowhere to hide performances”. The sets are by their very nature for multi performance usage minimal, but provide all that is required, and although The Brunton is one of my favourite venues, the newer “Venue 1” is a multi-purpose space not designed with live performance theatre as its primary function. There is no actual stage here, everything is at floor level, so with no physical performance stage (let alone a traditional raked stage), and limited performance depth space, there was nowhere for our cast to “hide” from the audience at any time during these performances. This is as close to right up and in with the audience as theatre comes.
All of these different works have a surprisingly light touch to them. This is not pantomime laughter style performances, more gentle humour at recognising a bit of yourself or someone that you know in the characters on stage. This is though still vaudeville/theatre and written for that purpose; “The Bear” for example was hugely loved as a play during Chekhov’s lifetime and was a big commercial and artistic success for him. Like all works though, these plays are of their time and they give us a window on the now lost world of a pre-revolutionary Imperial Russia with a fixed social order where peasants are still the workers of the land and the virtual property of their masters. Other social attitudes of the day (which may not be too widely held in the 21st century) still shine through here, and as always with humour, some of it is firmly fixed in its original time period.
This was simply a pleasant night out at the theatre with some skilful performers bringing to life the words of Anton Chekhov, and a small insight into the works of a writer who in the short life-time of only 44 years (1860 – 1904) wrote so much in so many styles and genres.
For more information about European Arts Company and these and other works in their performance schedule visit
Review by Tom King