From the moment you step through the doors of the intimate Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre, a jazzy soundtrack transports you effortlessly to interwar Britain. This is the setting for writer-director Mark Giesser’s adaptation of Chekhov’s short story, The Lady with a Dog, and the shadow of the First World War looms large over the characters throughout.
The play opens with Damian Granville (Richard Lynson), war veteran and womaniser, taking his regular summer holiday at the beach with one goal on his mind: finding a woman to seduce. His eye is quickly drawn to Anne Dennis (Beth Burrows), the eponymous lady with a dog, but he quickly realises that this will be much more than the summer fling he had planned.
Damian initially appears as a predatory and pompous character, much as he might rebuff the former description. But through his affair with Anne and Lynson’s nuanced acting he shows a thoughtful side which makes his character more sympathetic. But it is Burrows as Anne who is the standout in this production, providing a splendid display of nervous energy as Anne wrestles between her desire and her sense of propriety.
The two jilted spouses, Carl (Toby Manley) and Elaine (Laura Glover) appear initially only in the background, acting as dressers, set movers and as catalysts for the main characters to discuss their feelings about the key events of the plot. But Glover in particular is given some biting lines to deliver, being far more cognisant of the situation than Manley’s somewhat buffoonish Carl.
The play is strongest in its first act, with the sparky dialogue between Anne and Damian and their asides to their respective partners as they grapple with the beginnings of their attraction. The set is relatively sparse, and the show instead relies on clever use of lighting and sound to move us from scene to scene. Even the initially farcical absence of the titular dog is quickly forgotten as the story draws you in.
Choreography by Xena Gusthart also serves to effectively advance the plot, most notably in a tango scene in the first act in which Elaine and Carl try to intervene but are ultimately powerless in the face of Anne and Damian’s burgeoning love affair.
In the second act the play loses some of its power and momentum, as the witty back-and-forths are largely replaced by monologues which can tend towards exposition. However, there are still some strong scenes, particularly a comedic moment in which Carl unwittingly interacts with Damian at the cinema, and a closing scene which ties the narrative together.
While still in need of a little polish in its second half, The Lady with a Dog provides an interesting insight into the turbulent interwar period and breathes new life into Chekhov’s classic story.
The Lady With A Dog plays at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 8 October. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review