Review: Longing at the Hampstead Theatre has a great set, not sure about the play
When the set is the thing you remember most about a play then you know that something hasn't quite worked.
Longing at the Hampstead Theatre does have an amazing set - a wooden summer house sits on real grass and is surrounded by trees. There is a soundtrack of birdsong and the outdoors and combined with the smell of wood it is probably the most sensuous stage I've experienced.
Shame then about the play. *potential plot spoilers* Maybe Chekhov fans will appreciate it more and for those familiar with his work there aren't any surprises; its main plotline has been seen before - rich family fritters away money and ends up being turfed out of the family home.
There are other plot lines - the young pretty woman who is obsessively in love with the older bachelor, a man and woman that are old friends and obviously in love and the son of a rich man who wants to turn his back on the trappings of privilege and do manual labour. In true Chekovian style nobody really grabs the opportunities, follows their heart or has the courage of their convictions.
Longing is based on two short stories, scripted by William Boyd but adds little to Chekhov's canon and therefore I don't quite understand why it was deemed a worthwhile exercise turning it into another play.
It doesn't however make up for the shortcomings of the rest of it. There are great performances from Tamsin Greig and Iain Glen and some slightly odd performances elsewhere. I put the latter down to the fact that this is described as a comedy and with few laughs in the text director Nina Raine seems to have fallen back on OTT performances for humourous effect. It really isn't funny, well maybe a couple of chuckles but that does not a comedy make and although this was a preview performance, I can't see how they could up the laughs before press night.
Longing feels like the wrong play and the wrong production from the Hampstead Theatre. Sir Peter Hall, who famously and noisily fell asleep during a performance of Uncle Vanya in the West End last year, was in the audience. I can only imagine he'd dosed up on coffee beforehand. Its saving grace, aside from the set, is that it is short although I'm not sure why they've opted to split an hour and 40 minutes with a 20 minute interval.
Longing runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 6 April if you really love Chekhov then go, if you can take or leave Chekhov then I'd opt for the latter. Phil of the West End Whingers was at the same performance and you can read his review here.
Quite pleased with this one, Tamsin Greig was in God of Carnage with Ralph Fiennes who was in Skyfall with Mr W.
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If You Don't Let Us Dream... Royal Court Downstairs