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Donka: A Letter to Chekhov at the Gaiety (Review)

Donka: A Letter to Chekhov is a rather wonderful addition to the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Between this and the Absolut Fringe, theatre-lovers have been quite spoilt of late – I’m still looking forward to checking out Peer Gynt by Rough Magic in the next week or so. Donka: A Letter to Chekhov is a rather wonderful and imaginative little show loosely connected by vignettes inspired by or related to the works of Anton Chekhov, as written and directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, who also wrote and directed Corteo for Cirque de Soliel. It’ really rather wonderful and magical.

All going accordian to plan...

In many ways, Donka feels like a beautifully organised circus troupe putting on a spectacular show, with far more fun and creativity than one might imagine – entire vignettes are built around framing rather delicate and beautiful maneuvers in chaotic conditions. There are any number of moments where the performers manage a magical sense of whimsy while performing nigh impossible acts – three girls fighting over a swing without a safety net comes to mind, or a girl tapping in perfect time while seemingly struggling to maintain her balance. It’s clear that Pasca, who has worked with many members of the ensemble for quite some time, has a clear idea of what he wants and what he can draw from his performers.

The individual sequences are fairly distinct, drawing inspiration from materials around Chekhov, and his writings – books and letters and so forth. However, they’re mainly just an excuse for a bunch of impressive and innovative little set pieces. On top of acrobatics and tap dancing, there’s contortion and water fights, spinning and humming and singing, and come rather ingenious uses of projection. I don’t want to spoil anything, but one of my favourite sequences of the entire stage show came early on, featuring wonderful use of perspective to give us silhouettes and objects of different scales interacting. There’s also a stunning little bit where the cast use a bit of innovation to present the world not as it is or should be, but as we see it in dreams. It all looks rather wonderful – and the constantly changing set-up means that there’s literally something for everyone. It’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with the show.

Running rings around the competition...

I would make the note that it was occasionally quite difficult to make out what the actors were saying as they tended to fill the space between the individual segments with observations and narrations, about the author, the world around him, and the things even tangentially linked to him. It isn’t just the accents of the Spanish performers, but also their enunciation. I imagine that some of their shows in international venues would have used microphones, and I get the sense that some of the speakers could have been a just a bit louder. But that’s a relatively minor complaint, given how the show relies more on images and ideas than on long monologues or narration. It’s just a shame – I wish i could have made out more of what they were saying.

The show also features a rather wonderful score by Maria Bonzanigo, which gives the affair a wonderful sense of grandeur and class, which adds a rich atmosphere to the already impressive work happening on the stage. In fact, the production’s sound design is impressive, with the entire cast augmenting the soundtrack with their own rhythmic noises, and everything coming out rather wonderfully. All the technical aspects of the production are very impressive, and in service to a very entertaining stage show. It looksamazing. Even excluding the segment where the team note that they are attempting to show us the world as seen in a dream, there’s an almost ethereal aesthetic to the whole thing.

Not watered down...

Donka: A Letter to Chekhov will be at the Gaiety Theatre for quite some time to come. If you do like your stage shows a little whimsical and stunning, it’s well worth your time. It’s a pure visual feast, something to indulge your senses. It’s a fantastic theatrical accomplishment.

3 Responses

  1. It’s very much worth taking a look at Branagh’s readings of Chekhov, if you haven’t encountered them already: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6Zd0gFS4FM

    …The above sentence sounds so affected!

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