Be True to Thine Own Self. Yaaasss.
Erratic, messy, vibrant, celebratory and energetic pale pathetically when trying to communicate the feast that was Lucy J Skillbeck’s grin-inducing production of Chekhov’s two plays: The Bear and The Proposal (but not in that order).
Skillbeck’s from Selby in Yorkshire. Her theatre company Milk Presents (a joint endeavour with Adam Robertson and Ruby Glaskin) aptly describes itself as producing plays about “that sticky, messed-up, extraordinary and ambigous thing called gender”. That or the notion of their theatre being a celebration could not have been brought to bear (pni) more on this performance. This play was a sight to behold and bloody rapturous for the ears. Her guest blog on Broadway World describes her cast – her collaborators – as a gender fierce troupe, mischievous and sly to the nuance and soapy, foaming slipperiness of gender (last bit me).
George Ikediashi’s voice is whole, filling the room fully in dialogue and having an impetus when he sings that can’t help but move you. The unexpected move to stage and onset of stripping was as exotic (not r) as it was hilarious. Cabaret meets comedy. Rebecca Root was distressing in the first half (The Proposal) with her character’s constant incapacitation on the scene by heart palpitations. In the second, the characters played by her lent good balance to Ikediashi and Romeo’s effortless and physically fluid presences on stage (she was a bit more awkward). The sheer difference in size between the (relatively) tiny Kamari Romeo makes their embrace even better and just helps everything really when, at the crux of the play, they switch roles three times (each actor delivering the end line to the other).
Music was on point too. Harmonisation, bursting into song, lip-syncing tracks. It all just went down well.
I guess this was a play about gender centrally. It was a remake of Chekhov’s plays when, nearing the end of the nineteenth century, the idea of gender was beginning to be explored in certain ways it hadn’t been before. In the context of Russian estates and what it meant to be a woman back then, your place etc. It’s interesting because you genuinely forget who’s who, who is which gender, who is which sex. The director’s use of subtle cues – in this case a couple of props which would signal being the woman of the estate (a mourning veil with a red flouish) or a man (some crotch stuffing; less finessed but great) carry the eye and create dynamics. The physical presences and holistic nature of the actors themselves obviously remains. So that’s interesting. You begin to see personality, you begin to see actions. Different people can do the same thing and actions become labile, coming from a or b, but carrying their inherent meaning but being fitted onto a person. They make the action their own, but our interpretation and impression is different according to the actor (now that pun was intended).
We should appreciate that gender can be labile, that actions can be labile and that impressions should potentially be coupled to actions, not perhaps the interaction of those actions with the actor.
This play will make you feel good and probably be a better person. Please go see it. Also, Lucy Skillbeck, if you ever get to reading this… Marry me.