The Nina Variations
To paraphrase an exchange between Nina and Konstantin in The Seagull – Question: “How long does it take to watch a play?” Answer: “A lifetime.” Add to that that the lifetime must be spent on a not-too-comfy wooden seat in the Roxy Art House, and you end up with multiple pains in the bum.
I want to say straight away that I’m a huge fan of the following: Chekhov, young actors, ambitious writing and pencil sharpeners. But this play tested all of those longstanding affections to the hilt.
Chekhov, of course, wrote the last meeting between Nina and Konstantin the way he did because of what had gone before. The writer of these 42 (yes, 42) variations on that scene has then stretched interpretation of what went before to the absolute limit, and beyond, with the result that, by about halfway through, you can’t remember any variation above any other and meet each new one with a sense of exhaustion.
It’s possible, of course, that this is intentional; that Stephen Dietz wants to provoke the conclusion that, in art, no consequence is more likely than any other, but the construction is too blunt, too lazy, for that to hold. The actors, for their part, are of variable talent, but you’ve got to admire their commitment.
The day I saw the show, a man left around about Variation 22. If I hadn’t had the duty of writing this review, I might have done the same. But perhaps that will be someone else’s inspiration: to take what is, after all, a pretty good theatrical conceit and make it work in a tighter, more focused form? If they do, I hope I'll find out about it.
Times: 6-11 August, 3.05pm