In this blog post, Dramaturge Helena Brann tells all about 'Wild Honey', Michael Frayn's adaptation of Chekhov's earliest unfinished work and next week's ADC Theatre mainshow.
One of Chekhov’s earliest works came to light in one of the more mysterious ways. A large, rambling work, the play that came to be known as Platonov and was then adapted by Michael Frayn into Wild Honey, was discovered by chance in a deposit safe in a Moscow bank. There was no title page, no date, and no way of determining its origins. The only fact that was certain was that it was Chekhov’s, and that it was written early in his career.
Writing as a young man, Chekhov was adhering still, in some capacity, to various norms of theatre that existed in his youth and that he with his later work was responsible for beginning to shift. The play attempts to cover an almost impossible number of themes, ideas and morals in a play that, untouched, would run for just under six hours. In adaptation, much of Chekhov’s original manuscript was therefore condensed by Frayn, the multiple themes, plots, archetypes, intentions and even characters reduced. But that is not to say that they are entirely gone. Chekhov’s knack for toeing an exquisitely delicate line between comic farce and brutal tragedy were already clear in his youthful attempts at genre-hopping, and Frayn’s work serves not so much as a rewrite but as an unearthing of the Chekhovian style that is so beloved today.
For what is more Chekhovian than the understanding that everyday life, in all its forms, is both the farce and the tragedy? His characters are so beloved at both their best and their worst because they are instantly recognisable as those we know in our lives, so impossibly human that they could be mirrors of ourselves. He created a world onstage that had not been seen before, where his characters had a conceivable existence before and after the show. His dramas are often simply called tragedies because no one has a particularly happy ending, but I prefer to think of his style as an exploration of the human soul, a style that, not unlike the play, he could give no name to other than his own. Because as far as he writes, his subjects are people who eat, drink, seduce, fall in love, suffer, grieve, but go on living, and endure. And what’s more human than that?
'Wild Honey' runs from Tue 29 January to Sat 2 February at 7.45pm at the ADC Theatre. Tickets are available at adctheatre.com/honey