The Party, after Anton Chekhov

'The Party' presented by Anu Productions. Photo: Owen Boss.

'The Party' presented by Anu Productions. Photo: Owen Boss.

Anton Chekhov’s short stories are miniatures of characterisation, and a variety of writers have made the connection between their taut narrative voices and the tone of his plays by adapting them for the stage, the most notable of adaptations being by Brian Friel. The frustrated young wife and mother to be Olga Mihalovna in The Party might have walked straight out of Three Sisters. Bound by bodily immobility and the limitations of her social role, she spends her husband’s name day - a stifling summer’s day - alternately bored and bemused by the revelry around her.

The narrative tone of The Party immediately inspires a vivid internalised sense of Olga’s character, and the world conjured up is a world entirely of her own perception. Anxious and heavily pregnant, she is uneasy in her own body and with the conservative company gathered to celebrate with her husband. Other women - young and unencumbered by nascent life - are rivals; her husband’s hospitality is a rejection of her; casual conversations about social injustice are indictments of her privileged background. The conspiracy of the weather only serves to heighten the claustrophobic sense of a woman who feels like she is losing herself, her own identity, as she prepares to give birth to new life.

Sophie Motley and Caitríona Ní Mhurchú’s fluent adaptation puts Chekhov’s words directly into Olga’s own mouth, closing down the story's outward look into a dramatic monologue, and it is startlingly effective in mirroring the uncanny atmosphere that grows as the plot reaches its tragic culmination. As director, Motley understands the importance of atmosphere, and has Ní Mhurchú padding through the seated audience in Bewley’s Café Theatre like a ghost haunting the aftermath of her own experience. Dressed dramatically in a white nightdress, with a tightly-laced corset holding in her pregnancy, Ní Mhurchú’s Olga is a spectral presence. The reality of Ní Mhurchú’s heavily pregnant physicality brings a raw intensity to her performance, which teeters upon a nervous edge, as if foreshadowing her tragic fate.

Designer Sarah Jane Sheils plays adventurously with the light-levels throughout the forty minute piece, only barely enhancing the natural light of the day outside or candle light in her illumination of the room. In the boating scene an orange glow heightens the sense of summer heat; in the bedroom scene the shadowy radiance of a single candle flame suggests the lurking murky shadows that will soon pass across Olga’s life. Niall Toner’s original composition also plays with the natural atmosphere of the lunchtime theatre, the noises from crowds bustling on the street below segueing into the sound design, and heightening the sense of Olga’s distance from her exuberant guests.

Anu Production’s version of The Party is an impressive and unnerving dramatic retelling of Chekhov’s story, allowing audiences to immerse themselves in the best of both the writer’s linguistic virtuosity and his gift for characterisation. 2010 is the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth, and here Motley and Ní Mhurchú have paid fitting tribute.

Sara Keating writes about theatre for The Irish Times and The Sunday Business Post.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Party, after Anton Chekhov by Caitríona Ní Mhurchú and Sophie Motley

2 - 20 February, 2010

Produced by Anu Productions
In Bewley’s Cafe Theatre

Adapted for stage by Caitríona Ní Mhurchú and Sophie Motley

Directed by Sophie Motley

Designed by Sarah Jane Shiels

Sound Design by Niall Toner

With: Caitríona Ní Mhurchú