A day in the life of Anton Chekov

The Russian Doctor

The Door Birmingham Rep


ANTON Chekov is of course regarded highly for the plays that are internationally recognised as master works but prior to their creation In 1890 he made an arduous 11-week journey from his home in Moscow across Siberia to the brutal and remote penal colony on the island of Sakhalin.

Already knowing he was suffering with tuberculosis he began an account of his findings there that resulted in his only book of non-fiction Sakhalin Island.

As a qualified physician and with the creative mind of a novelist his observations are a haunting and detailed account of the Tsarist system of penal servitude and the writing serves as an insight into Chekhov's motivations for his subsequent work and that of Russian society at the time.

The Russian Doctor is Andrew Dawson’s visual exploration of Sakhalin Island told imaginatively through the use of projection, live and recoded narration, props music and his unique interpretation through physical movement.

At times it is a lecture, others interpretive dance, moving into live animation and all set against constantly evolving images of projected video and animation onto two overlaying backdrops.

At times the segue between all of this complex imagery and his physical performance  is a little  clunky and uneasy with Andrew moving from acting out say a physically torn distorted figure writhing in agony to standing up and then calmly chatting about the next part of Chekov’s findings like a history teacher.

Mostly though it is inventive and moving with simple symbolic gestures, such as the gathering of three piles of broken twigs into a collective heap to represent the inmates of the prison. Then later the wrapping of them in cloth as one, to become a shrouded corpse.

All of this is supported by a stream of pre-recorded narration by what sounded like ordinary speakers and at times, certain voices lacked the character and delivery needed to fully maximise Chekov’s powerful words.

The music was by John Pilcher and Ewan Cambell and provided an unsettling and eerie soundtrack to the combined visuals and Andrews movements.

A couple of times the screens blacked out and it seemed like a mistake and with the projection playing such an important part of the setting it was a sudden distraction.

The ability to master the technology alongside a live performance is not always easy but overall the combined effect was a transformingly bleak and highly visual personal account of the island and its broken inhabitants, into an engaging and emotive theatrical statement. To 13-09-14

Jeff Grant



Contents page  Rep Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre