If you steal other men’s wives, another man might steal yours. This was one of the underlying lessons on Friday night when the Copenhagen Theatre Circle brought ‘The Good Doctor’ to life in front of a near full house at Krudttønden. Written by Neil Simon, the play comprises a pastiche of legendary Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s short stories and the morals belying them. Director Frank Theakston takes inspiration from Chekhov’s époque in his realisation, allowing Chekhov’s brilliant and ironic writing to speak for itself.
While the play is filled with humour, slapstick and irony, there are poignant moments tactfully buried between the comedic episodes. The interplay between superior and inferior characters is common throughout, illustrated by the doting civil servant who sneezes on his minister, and the incompetent swimmer charging passers-by three rubles for the privilege of watching him drown.
‘The Drowned Man’ is a hilarious sketch in which a suspicious man – played creepily well by John Shennan – slinks out of the darkness and approaches ‘The Writer’ (Chekhov) to negotiate a price for some “entertainment”. That entertainment entails the slimy man jumping into cold water, going under and bobbing up three times, and puffing up like a drowned blowfish before being rescued by his colleague. This entertainment soon descends into tragic irony.
Jens Blegaa also does a great job as The Writer, narrating the cleverly layered tales and performing in some of the sketches himself. His appearance in ‘The Seduction’ is particularly memorable as he coaches the audience on how to seduce other men’s wives. The Writer helpfully suggests getting the girl through her husband. “Poison her with your tongue … but stay as far away from her as possible” – treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen isn’t a new concept after all. But even this piece has a moral. The bachelor gets out of his self-destructive cycle, marries, and has a happy life except when his bachelor friends start telling him how beautiful his wife is.
The set was minimalistic, incorporating antique furniture against a black backdrop. While this made the transition between each sketch as simple as reconfiguring the seating and tables onstage, some of the scene changes were slightly clunky. The costumes, designed by Maria Lundbye, evoked a sense of Chekhov’s time and helped to place the characters in their respective positions of hierarchy. The lighting is simple but effective, making good use of spotlights to highlight the vulnerability and passion of an actress as she reads for an audition. Some might have recognised her audition piece from Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’.
But even if you are not familiar with the works of Chekhov, ‘The Good Doctor’ is an entertaining production with a depth that will take you by surprise and have you thinking long after you have left the theatre.
The Good Doctor