Sherman Theatre, Cardiff.
National Theatre Wales, best known for Michael Sheen’s The
Passion in Port Talbot last Easter, likes to take imaginative leaps
and has drawn one of the UK’s top playwrights to his home city.
Bringing director Peter Gill back to Cardiff to
stage his 1960s play pays off refreshingly.
Gill draws on Russian writer Chekhov’s stories of life in a
provincial backwater. Is he also drawing parallels with the
Cardiff of his youth? Surely, he is. And the visible austerity
on view also seems to chime with the age.
Starchy, stiff-backed society is in chaos and polluted by class
hatred. The portrayal of Chekhov’s Russia is uncanny.
Having lived in that neck of the woods, Chekhov’s melancholy
mood of 1890s Russia has in no way changed for the masses.
Corruption is rife, drunkenness, duplicity and despair
are still scourges of society – there’s a sense that there’s a
bottomless void of unending pain. The famous Monty Python ‘We
had it hard when we were young’ sketch could still almost pass
It’s all vividly and cannily re-created by an excellent cast
who give us prim, stuffed-shirt ‘pillars’ of society, dreamers
and kooky crackpots in glorious abundance.
If all that sounds a bit heavy, well hey it’s Russia, where
life’s never been a picnic (unless you’re an oligarch). And
it’s oddbod characters formed by that society who capture your
So while a melancholy mood is created, A Provincial Life casts
a magical, fascinating spell. There’s vroom in the gloom.
Gill concludes that even when life appears to be meaningless,
small, insignificant acts do make a difference.
So, it seems, if you live in Dullsville, whether it’s Russia or
the Rhondda, there’s always hope.