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Jonathan Kent directs Chekhov's debut play (again)
It feels like there are actual Shakespeare plays that are performed less frequently than Anton Chekhov’s untitled, unfinished debut – ‘Wild Honey’ is the second version to hit London this year. Not only that, it’s also the second version directed by Jonathan Kent – although not exactly by choice. After his superlative production of ‘Platonov’ (David Hare’s adaptation for Chichester and the National Theatre) Kent stepped into the breach when the great Howard Davies passed away weeks before he was due to helm Hampstead Theatre’s revival of ‘Wild Honey’ (Michael Frayn’s 1984 version).
I’m going to be honest and say for reasons fair or unfair the former completely blew away the latter for me. Partly this is because of the differences: ‘Platonov’ had a wild, nihilistic energy to it that felt much more thrilling than ‘Wild Honey’, which (not unreasonably) imagines the convoluted romantic shenanigans of smalltown schoolmaster Platonov as a sort of swinging-doors farce, except with a dense Russian wood instead of doors. There’s also the simple fact that ‘Platonov’ had a vastly higher budget, and the sort of cast and set that ‘Wild Honey’ simply can’t muster (mind you, that doesn’t explain why the ‘Wild Honey’ cast is so much less diverse).
But partly it’s to do with the similarities: the versions are not really that different, and with the same director bringing a broadly similar period production approach, I suffered a fair amount of deja vu that you clearly won’t if you didn’t see ‘Platonov’. (Though that said perhaps some of my deja vu came from the fact it felt more like generic Brits-do-Chekhov than the wild ‘Platonov’).
Geoffrey Streatfeild is good as the reluctant Don Juan schoolteacher, seemingly genuinely tortured by a success with the ladies that’s almost wholly self-destructive; of the rest of the cast I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Humphries’ matter-of-fact turn as Platonov’s long-suffering wife Sasha and Matthew Flynn’s gentle take on semi-feral woodsman Osip (though I wonder if they stood out because they were the furthest from the ‘Platonov’ takes).
Hey ho. It’s a slick, polished job that’ll clearly knock your socks off if you’ve never seen any version of this play before – if it’s not a production for the ages it’s a good result under difficult circumstances.