A Provincial Life, YC Review

Heritage Vs Happiness

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A Provincial Life
National Theatre Wales
Sherman Cymru
Stars ***
National Theatre Wales have once again worked their magic to bring legendary director Peter Gill back to his home city of Cardiff to direct for the very first time. This re-working of Gill’s 1966 adaptation of Chekov’s short story gently tells the tale of Misail (Nicholas Shaw), a bourgeois young man, who wants to labour for his bread despite his privileged upbringing. Shunned by his father we follow him as he tries to build a life for himself and help those less fortunate in 19th century Russia.
Through their marketing strategy NTW have continuously pointed out the lavish set and costume design and it’s easy to see why – Alison Chitty’s design was superb. Huge bleached wood panels provided a blank yet imposing canvas that could be moved to suggest different spaces. Each scene was beautifully introduced by the chorus placing the furnishings of the rich or poor households in simple but effective choreographed sequences. These features perfectly framed the play as a whole and set the slow, almost dreamy state. The farmhands scything crops perfectly in time with Terry Davies’s haunting music was particularly poignant.
Performances from the 15 strong cast were impressive, in particular Alex Clatworthy as Misail’s unpredictable wife brought a real spark and energy to the production. Comic relief was delivered in the form of Misail’s rather odd collegue, Ivan (John-Paul Macleod). Lee Haven-Jones (Boris Ivanov Blagovo) and William Thomas (Andrey Ivanov) added true warmth and depth as Misail’s real friends.
Definitely a slow burner, if you are a fan of punchy dialogue and fast paced action this may not be the show for you. Although many of the themes are relevant to today’s youth, who are also striving for change, the production lacked a certain fire and passion that you would expect in a tale of revolution. Perhaps for a plot that emphasised the need to work for what you have it was a little too cerebral. This lack of gusto meant the end – although touching – fizzled out and was rather unsatisfying.
Although Misail sets out to help those less fortunate it is those very same people who are helping him by the end. This intelligent production forces you to ponder what is really valuable in this life – wealth and power or compassion and community?
Reviewed by Chelsey Gillard
Runs at the Sherman Theatre until 17th March
Box office Phone: 029 2064 6900
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