It’s an eye-catching opening scene. Against a backdrop of hats and coats hanging on pegs, an array of characters come and go in a cleverly choreographed blur of activity. Railway passengers and porters bustle about, hats and coats are donned and discarded, suitcases fly through the air and are deftly caught.
Gradually, the action settles down and we realise we have been watching just three actors, two men and a woman, in a range of different guises. Now they assume the personae of three strangers meeting on a train, travelling from Moscow to Yalta in 1890, and begin to enact a series of comedic tales…
Love on the Tracks, based on early stories by Anton Chekhov, is written by Richard Attlee, an actor probably best known as Kenton in The Archers. Attlee, who studied Russian at university, says he has aimed to evoke the world of late 19th century Russia in his play. He also cites more contemporary influences, including Ealing comedies and classic British and American sitcoms. The author appears in the production, directed by Michael Woodwood, alongside fellow performers Paul Bigley and Sioned Jones. The trio form an impressive ensemble, each portraying numerous different, clearly defined characters.
Attlee has an energetic, very physical stage presence, which contrasts nicely with the more hangdog characterisations of Bigley. The latter has one of those slightly mournful faces that you can’t help watching, and a deft touch with a witty line or telling look. Jones is a warm and engaging performer, with an impressive ability to shift shapes. One moment she’s a strange-looking hag, the next a no-nonsense widow, then a beguiling beauty. The stories, all following an amorous theme, flow seamlessly into one another. Scene and costume changes are handled smoothly by the three performers. The simple but ingenious set sees suitcases serving a variety of functions: a writing desk here, a tray of cakes there…
It’s a play of two halves. The early scenes have a broad, almost cartoonish quality. After the interval, there’s a change in tone and the mood is more reflective, sometimes melancholy, and the humour more subtle.
The final scene provides a satisfyingly heartwarming conclusion, and an answer to the age-old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.
The venue, a delightful converted watermill in rural Berkshire, has a strong record of producing award-winning work, and has enjoyed West End transfers and national and international tours. This production is here for just a week and then embarks on a busy tour of venues, including many village halls, until early June. The schedule includes a performance at the Greenwich Theatre on May 3.
For more information about the show or the tour please click here