Review: Wild Honey, Hampstead Theatre and the obvious comparisons with the National Theatre's Platonov
Chekhov's early, untitled play has had two airings this year; plays are like buses, after all. First to arrive, via Chichester, was the David Hare's adaptation at the National Theatre using the title of the protagonist, Platonov. And now Hampstead Theatre has revived Michael Frayn's version called Wild Honey.
Having really enjoyed Platonov, I had high expectations for Wild Honey particularly as Geoffrey Streatfeild was taking the lead. But it also means that comparisons are inevitable. There are slight tweaks in the plot but at the centre, you have the sharply intelligent Platonov who doesn't realise quite how discontent and boring his life has got until a former young lover Sofya (Sophie Rundle) reappears in his life, married to Sergey (Joe Bannister) a man he deems intellectually inferior.
He's newly married himself to a Sasha (Rebecca Humphries) to whom he is already growing indifferent. He prefers to spend time with the intelligent and beautiful widow Anna Petrovna (Justine Mitchell) and teasing the easily tormented, mousey scientist Marya (Jo Herbert).
Geoffrey Streatfeild's Platonov, despite the smiling production photos, seems to be in a bad mood most of the time to the point where I couldn't understand why anyone would seek out his company. James McArdle's Platonov had oodles of cheeky charm that explained the allowances made for his bad behaviour and why people still gravitated towards him. In fact, there is an inexplicable sort of hysteria over Platonov that seems to whip up among the women in Wild Honey.
Platonov's charm and cheekiness in the NT's production also brought out the humour and made it a funny and fun play so that at the end, Platonov's fate feels tragic. With Wild Honey, there were fewer laughs and it felt like he got what he deserved and for that reason, I prefer the David Hare/NT version.
I'm giving Wild Honey a good, solid three and a half stars but I gave Platonov five. It is two hours and twenty minutes including an interval and is at the Hampstead Theatre until 21 January .