King’s Theatre
3 stars ***

MOVE TWENTY YEARS ON from the time when the action of Chekhov’s great plays takes place, and you find a Russia plunged in revolution, a Moscow seething with political activism, strife, and danger.   There’s no echo of that, though, in Brian Friel’s strange little 2002 piece Afterplay, in which he imagines a meeting in a Moscow tea-room, two decades on, between two much-loved Chekhov characters, the patient Sonia from Uncle Vanya, and the feeble brother Andrey, from Three Sisters.

However debatable the idea behind the play, though, there’s no doubt that Friel uses it to create a moving meditation on how we use imagination to create worlds which are more exciting, or more bearable, than the humdrum realities we actually live; and then succeed, or fail, in making those dreams come true.  Andrey endearingly constructs a version of himself more acceptable than the sad truth of his middle-aged life, and then watches his fiction fall apart under Sonia’s steady gaze.  Sonia actively chooses to continue to live in the dream of her unfulfilled love for the visionary doctor, Astrov, rather than move towards a real relationship with this new friend.

And if Garry Hynes’s production provides a slightly subdued coda to the Gate Theare’s tribute to Friel at 80, it nonetheless features two fine, old-fashioned star performances from the wonderful Frances Barber as an earthy Sonia; and from Niall Buggy as a perfect embodiment of how Andrey might have been in his Fifties – amiable, loving, unfailingly courteous, and absolutely lost.

Joyce McMillan
Until 5 September
EIF p. 25


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