Red Shorts

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, The Edge, Auckland

07/06/2006 - 23/06/2006

Production Details

Written by Anton Chekhov and Kevin J Wilson
Produced and designed by Kevin J Wilson

CHEKHOV plays directed by George Tudor
Production concept directed by Kevin J Wilson

Costumes by Mihaela Bau

The Olfarts Comedy Company
Presented in partnership with STAMP – Creative Development at THE EDGE®

Plays within a play.
Born out of an idea to mix classical theatre with European clowning and complete character acting The Olfarts Comedy Company has created a fictitious Russian theatre group on tour with a repertoire of Chekhov plays.

The Moldova Arts Theatre Company is a little frayed around the edges and is at odds with PC New Zealand. Managed by a Romanian tap dancer whom they picked up in a bar in Bucharest it is only her efforts that keep the tour on the road. She has to deal with actors who are late. The orchestra is lost and believed to be busking in Queenstown. No stage crew in sight. Her leading man and lady are heading for a divorce her other actors drink too much vodka and are grouchy about not being able to smoke inside NZ. On top of that her English is about as bad as it gets. However she gets the show onstage, perhaps with some help from the audience. She is saved by the fact that although her actors are a problem offstage when they are acting they are superb. Hence they old saying “to get good drama onstage you have to put up with it offstage as well”.

RED SHORTS Is also about Chekhov and how he wished his plays to be performed. Throughout his life he insisted that he wrote comedy not drama. The short plays performed are definitely comedies that depict life in Russia during the 1880s. “I write you comedy, Comedy! And you give me drama!” yelled Chekhov to the director Stanislavski after the first performance of “The Cherry Orchard”. Perhaps RED SHORTS is a little more Chekhov than Stanislavski.

The plays are known as the Chekhov vaudevilles. Four short comedies written by Chekhov for his local Vaudeville theatre company in the town of Tarong, during the 1880s. They are very different from his more famous full length plays. Written at time before Stanislavski founded the Moscow Arts Theatre, and before Russian Theatre began to explore naturalism and symbolism

Cristina Ionda, Michael Lawrence, Peter Cox, Denise Snoad, David Stott and Kevin J Wilson

Theatre ,

Mixed results deserve to be embraced

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 08th Jun 2006

Leave any preconceived notions of Chekhov and Kevin J Wilson at the door when you walk into Red Shorts. Take everything with a healthy pinch of salt and be prepared to become part of the show if asked. Directed by George Tudor, Red Shorts is rough, and needs some judicious editing towards the end, but this pot-pouri of ham-acting, violin solos, Theatresports and classic Chekhov, is innovative and fresh.

Wilson has essentially devised and written an evening’s theatre that is four (Chekhov) plays within a play, taking some bold risks along the way, with mixed results.

The performance starts as soon as you enter the venue with one of the actors (David Stott) wandering in and stoically playing his violin in the foyer. A bonus for late comers and those folk who always seem to be the last to make it to their seats no matter what time they reach the theatre, was seeing the rest of the cast arrive in the foyer (in character), scolded by their "boss" and ushered through the auditorium, onto the stage. Some fine improv took place around me as Wilson and Peter Cox heartily greeted random patrons queuing at the door.

The audience interaction continued, as two people in the auditorium were put to work, hanging up costumes on stage. Whether it was intentional or not, one of the chosen ‘porters’ was veteran actress, Jo Davison, who looked stunned and amused during her surprise cameo. Intriguing to watch but I’m glad it wasn’t me.

Once the audience and the actors are settled, Elena (Cristina Ionda), the company manager of this motley crew, takes a big breath, and introduces us to the (fictional) world of The Moldovan Actors, who are about to bring you four one-act "vaudevilles" from Chekhov’s early repertoire. Cristina’s accent and phrasing are genuine, and while a few details are lost in translation, that only enhances the enjoyment of her performance. She is delicious to listen to.

We meet Toma, (Stott), Kevanovitch (Wilson), Sydniet (Michael Lawrence) and Katrina (Denise Snoad). Throughout the evening, we are privy to their "behind the scenes" antics and tantrums, as Elena struggles to hold the company focussed on performing Chekhov.

The first piece is The Boor (aka The Bear) and some fine performances emerge. Smirnov (Lawrence) bursts onto stage, ranting and raving to Mrs Popov (Snoad) about money. They make a dynamic duo, feeding off each other’s strong focus and energy.

In the second half, the same pairing is equally engaging in A Pink Stocking. Michael is just as commanding to watch in this quieter role, and delivers some classic Chekhov one liners with deadpan perfection.

Another Chekhov highlight, is Cox in The Harmfulness Of Tobacco. Peter gives a fascinating performance as the limp, worn out hen-pecked husband Nyukhin. Stott’s small but perfectly formed silent cameo, as Nyukhin’s wife in the wings, was inspired.

My attention was often drawn to Stott’s character Toma, as he spends a lot of Red Shorts in a world of his own, just quietly observing from the side lines, now and then announcing this and that with his little gong. He has a remarkable ability to stay tuned to every second of what is unfolding on stage. I also enjoyed his contributions on the violin, which included well-known tunes from Fiddler on the Roof.

A versatile member of the cast, Stott’s experience as a veteran Theatresports player made another opportunity for audience interaction work well, as he asked a woman in the front row to play his violin while he rearranged the set. She gave a committed and humorous performance, which Stott complimented effortlessly.
The final Chekhov play is The Swan Song. While there are some lovely moments between the self-indulgent Svietlovidoff, (Wilson) and patient Nikita (Cox), the piece simply takes too long to make its point, making the overall duration of Red Shorts, longer than ideal.

At its best, Red Shorts has a refreshing edginess. There is definitely an air of ‘what on earth will come next’ throughout the evening. However, not every risk taken works. Elena’s tap dance was sweet, but distracting. Yes, she can tap, but is that enough justification to put a sample in the show?

Red Shorts is not a play for those who like to sit in the dark and passively watch the players do the work. The opening night audience embraced Wilson’s concept. They were appreciative, open to interaction and willing to go with the flow. The talented cast of Red Shorts deserve such audiences throughout their season.


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