It's all gone a bit Russian for me at the theatre lately. In Dan Rebellato's Chekhov in Hell the playwright's death was in fact just the start of a century-long coma. Chekhov (Simon Scardifield) wakes up from it in present-day Britain and after a mix-up at the hospital is allowed to wander off into the modern world, horrified by the world he sees. It's billed as "bitterly comic" but this seems to translate into something with all the outward appearances of a frantic, sketchy comedy but very few actual jokes (the funniest sequence is the one where Chekhov learns English in a class repeating phrases like "Leave it mate, he's not worth it" and "You are chatting shit. End of.") The other five cast members play dozens of roles each but their efforts are rather wasted in a show that doesn't seem to know what tone it's aiming for. Chekhov seemingly randomly goes from scene to scene being baffled by fashionistas, minor pop stars, builders and prostitutes but there's no explanation as to why these people are talking to him or how he's getting about - there's a wry line about the randomness of these encounters but pointing out that you're aware of a problem isn't the same as solving it. And I was never quite convinced there was a good reason why Chekhov in particular should be chosen as the time traveller (apart from the fact that the bow tie/beard/pince nez combo is a good visual reference to his fish out of water status.) Simon Stokes' production has its own oddities on top of this: All the other actors wear neutral modern clothing that doesn't change when they change roles, and props are all mimed - except when the odd real prop or bit of clothing actually appears, for reasons that weren't clear to me. At least the actors are excellent in their multiple roles, especially the very likeable Ruth Everett, and Paul Rider who switches effectively from genuinely threatening gangster to ineffectual vicar and back.
Chekhov in Hell by Dan Rebellato is booking until the 14th of May at the Soho Theatre.