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The Lady with a Dog
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
WHERE does Eros go when marriages bound by property rights and political facade throttle the libido? Or when love and commitment, rather than existing within one relationship, are found with different people?
Mark Giesser’s version of Chekhov’s famous short story The Lady with a Dog considers this in a time and context switch from Yalta 1899 to a Scottish resort in 1923. The interwar British jazz age.
Two married people holidaying alone, Anna and Damien, fall in love. The bloke has form in this regard, and Chekhov’s original looks at how tomcatting around can lead to the real thing and cause suffering for all concerned.
The dog – a fluffy white Pomeranian (we know this from the small drawing given to Damian as a keepsake) is suggested by air sculpting as Anna, all cut glass vowels and edgy veering between bliss and guilt, strokes and pets the invisible canine, Lily.
As animals often do, Lily acts as a sort of catalyst, providing useful diversionary chitchat, eye contact shifts and trivia around which people can gather their real thoughts or their next line.
Animals are good flirting aids. But as there was in Chekhov’s original, there is more to it than that.
The lover and the hubby are a banker and conservative politician respectfully, and respectability is all the rage. Damien Granville’s banker is played with suave charm by Richard Lynson. Anna’s husband, an aspiring Tory MP of German heritage – and boring as hell – is played skillfully by Toby Manley.
Damien’s wife is snarky, cynical and worldly, a terrific performance from Laura Glover as Elaine the banker’s wife, and the most interesting character.
The symbolic pairing of a banker and a politician so near to the end of WWI and with WWII ratcheting up with a crazy German currency is the embedded political symbolism in this version.
Freud, who worked out his theories on rich, neurotic Viennese women (see Christopher Caudwell’s Studies of a Dying Culture) gets a few mentions. What is going on in our ids and egos? But he’s seen as the new kid on the block, his ideas having had no time to bed in – as it were. Women’s suffrage too – with Elaine pointing out that women will soon have the vote and may well upend the social order.
Around these huge themes a quartet of posh folk work out their emotional turmoil. Xena Gusthart’s choreography makes the play dance as characters twirl after a loaded line, skip to be in a lover’s arms or avoid those of a spouse.
Denisha Parmenter’s set, Sam M Owens’s lighting and Alice McNicholas’s gorgeous costume design are in Art-deco harmony. Movement and direction from Giesser is effortless, and I was seeing it as a jazz age ballet with dialogue. Nice Charleston too, from Beth Burrows as Anna.
But in the end it is about the very people who messed up the world in the first place, and who might only be relatable to the royal family.
Do the lovers get together? If you want to find out, treat yourself to an evening’s Jazz Age nostalgia at this interesting off-West End theatre, where you can also have a lovely dinner – and champers too – darling.
Runs until October 8. Box Office at 020 8340 3488, www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com/booking-tickets/
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