Matched Everyman, Cork ****
Going to the theatre in Cork can feel like going to a pub, at least in the case of this show at the Everyman Palace. The combination of the Everyman’s new season launch reception with the opening night of Ger Fitzgibbon’s two-act play resulted in a talkative stream of wine- and beer-bearing latecomers in the opening minutes of the show.
This inevitably disrupts the impact of Nicholas Kavanagh’s initial appearance as the suitor Looney-Bagenal. It also means that the detail of Deirdre Dwyer’s economic but beautifully pitched set is diminished, and it erodes the impact of Fitzgibbon’s rewriting of two Chekov vaudeville pieces being rooted in rural Ireland instead of rural Russia.
This is important because, in his writing and direction, Fitzgibbon sets a brisk pace. His cast of three – Kavanagh, Jack Healy and Aideen Wylde – relish the controlled canter at which they work, and are skilled and comfortable enough to accommodate the reaction to their paired comedies.
Matched is a take – and, except in its structure, a fairly faithful one – on Chekov's The Bear and The Proposal, which FitzGibbon has recreated as separate plays united by reference, inference and by adherence to Chekov's own sense of human self-deception.
Of course, there are hints of other influences, not least to Somerville and Ross, with The Irish RM coming inevitably to mind. But that's the dramatic leveller: in west Cork, as in Russia, land is more important than love, debt is omnipresent, and a rivalry over dogs and horses can set a townland ablaze. Here, both the tone and time reflect the original source.
Fitzgibbon’s light touch, Healy’s finely judged transformation from landowner to servant, Wylde’s hair-trigger changes from scorn to simper, and Kavanagh’s double act from hypochondriac to dragoon are a delight, from this awkward start to its elegant, if sudden finish. Until January 24th