Tea with Chekhov is the inaugural production for company Key Conspirators and consists of ‘three single-served farces’ squeezed into the Melbourne Fringe’s standard 60-minute timeframe. Key Conspirators and debut director Philip Hayden have managed to pull together an all-star cast to bring audiences three pieces, The Proposal, A Jubilee and The Boor.
The set is simple on the black-box stage and works a treat for all three pieces (do I hear high-fiving that there are no pointless set changes and each piece flows from one to the other?). Centre stage is a chaise and chair, stage left a desk and stage right a drink stand. It was set out well so that it never felt cramped even when there were four on the stage. The only set piece I question was the screen at the back of the set, it was never used and seemed a little pointless. The lighting was done cleverly in a space that is not easy to light.
This was the pick of the three for mine. The Proposal follows the story of Ivan Vassilievich (Pat Moonie) who has asked Stepan Stepanovich (Kevin Hopkins) for his daughter Natalyia’s (Siobhan Connors) hand in marriage. However, their dispute over land, who has the better dog and Vassilievich’s constant heart palpitations makes asking for her hand very difficult. This piece flowed excellently. All three players bounced off one another beautifully and kept the pace bubbling along exactly how a farce needs to be. It was quick and snappy and an all-round enjoyable piece.
A Jubilee tells the story of a bank that is having their Jubilee, however as the characters try and get organised for it, they keep getting distracted by other issues. Stefan Dennis (Shipoochin, Andrey Andryeevich) was the stand out in this piece and unfortunately it showed. The other three players in the piece Anisha Senaratne, Hayden Burke and Sarah Hallam were not able to give Dennis the energy needed to allow this piece to build and build until it’s ultimate crescendo. Instead, the peak came out of nowhere and until that point it was stale. It lacked the pace that The Proposal had nailed and therefore dragged for a majority of the piece.
The boor also lacked pace for the first half of the piece; more often than not it felt like it had no rhythm. The Boor is about a widow, Yeliena Ivanovna Popova (Emma Hayden) who has been in mourning for seven months over her husband’s death. On the seventh month anniversary, she is visited by Grigory Stepanovich Smirnov (James Harvey) who has come to collect some money he is owed. However, Popova won’t be able to get the money for him for a couple of days and yet Smirnov needs the money today (which is mentioned many times). As a result Smirnov won’t leave and Popova wants him out and they finally agree to a duel. It is not until this point that the pace is picked up and it hurtles toward the ending. This piece is interspersed by the maid Ludmilla (Jessica Martin) who plays her part very well.
If I was Hayden and this was my first directorial venture, I would be very proud of it. Likewise, Key Conspirators should be proud to be able to call this their first. There were a few issues with it but it would be very easy to tighten these cues over the course of the run and get the last two pieces to run with the speed and fluidity that a farce requires. Tea with Chekov is running until October 1st.