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Ward No 6

Monday, 14 February, 2011

At Camden People’s Theatre until 27th Feb

Chekhov's Ward No 6 by DogOrange

Ward No 6 is based on a Chekhov story. In this dramatisation, it seems to have been heavily influenced by Solzhenitsyn – we could quite easily be in one of those unforgiving Gulags as the play opens to a cheerless space wherein are gathered four huddled figures, sleeping on beds too small for them.

This stark introduction is followed by a fantasy passage marked by its formality and which, we later find, brings the entire production round upon itself in a circle, a conceit for which Chekhov might well have expressed approval.

The company here (DogOrange) is an engaging one. They are not given too much chance to show their skills when gibbering in this mental ward in the depths of Victorian Russia (a little too much archness and volume perhaps?), but later, as each is called upon to play other characters, they come into their own. Even here though, Charlotte Blake has a pleasantly childlike take on her own particular brand of nuttyness.

The plot concerns a doctor, coming to a hospital somewhere in the extensive midst of Russia’s ‘nowhere’, despairing of the intellectual life of the local community and finding, in the inhabitants of the barely inspected ‘Ward 6’, someone with whom he finds more insight and intellectual challenge, despite his ‘madness’. The local burghers are not impressed by this, or the doctor’s increasing predilection to alcohol.

The doctor is overworked, lonely, in a remote outpost of civilisation where humanity seems barely to survive. But is the doctor descending into insanity himself? Or is the inside of Ward 6 the only place where sanity is actually to be found?

So, get beyond the shouting and the slightly arch expressions of madness here and what you have is an engaging cast – directed meticulously – who manage their character shifts with real style, and present us with a drama which has a question of real substance at its core.

This production plays the story as a kind of myth, so it was a little troubling to have some of Chekhov’s rather more social details thrown in here, particularly the outing the doctor takes to Warsaw to recuperate, but the ways in which character and scene changes are managed has an attractive grace which allows a lot to be forgiven. The lumpen burghers are particularly effective too.

This is a slight, but effective production, which despite some ripples in its fabric, has a satisfying edge.

Cast: Charlotte Blake – Marushka, Sergeyevitch, Daryushka; Oliver Lavery – Gromov, Hobotov; Michael Lindsay – Petya, Averyanitch, Nikita; Harry Lobek – Ragin.

Director – Matthew Parker; Producer – Saba Burall; Designer – Suneeda Maruthiyill; Lighting – Allan Ramsay; Stage manager – Tim Berryman; Assistant director – Catherine Gerrard; Assistant designer – Daisy McDonald; Fight direction – Philip d’Orleans; Costume – Suneeda Maruthiyill, Bryan Pilkington; Makeup – Melissa Advani

reviewed Friday, 12 February 2011

(c) Michael Spring 2011

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