Jonathan Kent is currently directing Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull, the three Young Chekhov adaptations by David Hare. We sat down with the two of them and asked a little about the productions.
Hi David, hi Jonathan. So, the season is called Young Chekhov. How are these plays different from his later works?
JK: The plays have all the vigour of a young man’s writing. Particularly in David’s versions – they have a verve and an energy and an ebullience of spirit which really are the hallmarks of a young writer.
DH: Two of these plays have romantic, young leads and they’re clearly autobiographical. A man who is irresistibly attractive to women in Platonov is quite clearly Chekhov himself (who was indeed irresistible to women). In the context of these two plays, The Seagull seems autobiographical as well – it’s about how the middle-aged trip up and do their best to destroy the work of the young.
What are the major themes of the three plays?
DH: The great theme is the sweep of time, the passage of time and watching your hopes get blown away. And helplessness is a big theme of all three plays. All three plays are essentially about people who can’t help themselves. Some of the most moving characters [in the trilogy] are the people for whom it’s getting to be too late. Everybody seems completely helpless in the face of time.
JK: The evaporation of youth and youth’s ideals. The erosion of what we thought we would be.
Can you tell us a bit about the visual staging?
JK: What we wanted to do was create a sort of installation. It’s elemental: there’s water, there’s wood. It’s a very happy match to come to the Olivier, which is a theatre I love. I think the rapport between the audience and the actor is second to none – it’s fantastic.
Thanks. Any final thoughts about the run?
DH: I hope the young will come. There was a fierce response from young people – particularly to Platonov – who came to see the plays in Chichester. They were surprised that so many of the things that they feel and are undergoing in their own lives, were written about by Chekhov in the 1880s. 130 years ago, someone was feeling what you’re now feeling today.
Video of the full interview will be available in the Young Chekhov digital programe in the National Theatre's Backstage app.