A worthy stage-side manner

If you don't understand Danish but want to enjoy the theatre? Then 'The Good Doctor' and 'Desdemona' are the plays for you.  The Good Doctor, set in 19th century Russia, promises to tickle your laughter reflex with its Chekovian style comedy, while Desdemona, a brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, will stimulate your tragic sense of life. 

 

The Good Doctor 

Krudttønden, Serridslevvej 2, 2100 Cph Ø;

Starts Wed, ends April 28;

Performances at 20:00 (unless stated) Wed-April 21, April 22 (17:00), April 24-28;

Tickets: 140kr, group discounts, tickets@ctcircle.dk;

www.ctcircle.dk

 

No matter how slight your sadistic tendencies, we all enjoy chuckling at others’ misfortune from time to time. If a toothache-ridden cleric suffering at the hands of an enthusiastic but incompetent medical student tickles your calluses, The Good Doctor is sure to stimulate your laughter reflex. 

 

Broadway’s master of comedy Neil Simon (The Odd Couple) has craftily woven together a collection of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s farcical short stories, slapstick and music to bring you The Good Doctor. Most people wouldn’t expect gags from 19th century Russia to be funny. To the contrary, Chekhov’s humour is as relevant today as it was when he wrote his way through med school. After all, watching a fawning employee spatter a vociferous sneeze all over his boss is as funny today as it has ever been.

 

While not all the sketches are purely comedic, the show’s director, Frank Theakston, the chair of the Copenhagen Theatre Circle, emphasises that almost all contain humorous, bittersweet elements. Absurdity underlies much of the humour, making light of the world’s madness. The slapstick sketches focus on the hilarity of pain, while other scenes poke fun at the embarrassment suffered by people due to their position in society. These animated characters range from the desperate actress, to the Casanova preying on vulnerable wives, to the bank manager simultaneously ravaged by gout and the affections of an insane woman. Ouch.

 

Despite Chekhov’s habitual reference to cultural context, Theakston says his writing has a Shakespeare-like quality that makes the sketches timeless. “Chekhov’s character observation and social commentary make it comparatively easy for any audience to identify with the situations, comic or otherwise,” he says. 

The Writer (played by Jens Blegaa) narrates the play, linking the various episodes as though they are products of his imagination. Floating in and out of the scenes and providing commentary, The Writer is of course Chekhov, but Simon never reveals him as such. Hints are dropped along the way, with the character uttering his constant feeling of inferiority compared to literary greats Tolstoy and Turgenev. 

 

The Writer is a clever tool, according to Theakston, as he enables the drama to slalom between the most outlandish sketches and the more reflective, poignant episodes, leading the audience through a range of emotions: from chuckling knowingly at the rivalry between two war veterans on a park bench, to being moved by the chance meeting of two lonely old people. 

 

The Copenhagen Theatre Circle’s production includes ten actors, double the size of the play’s original 1973 cast on Broadway. The CTC’s interpretation also focuses more on creating a sense of Chekhov’s era, with period settings and turn of the 20th century costumes, rather than drawing on Simon’s American-take on the short stories. 

 

The CTC has been around for more than 42 years, but it is Theakston’s first time directing, an experience he has found “surprisingly exhilarating”.

 

“As an actor, I don’t particularly look forward to rehearsing, whereas as a director I found myself absorbed in the process of bringing out the characters, developing the stories and getting the best out of my fellow actors,” Theakston says.

 

If you want a generous dose of farcical comedy interspersed with thoughtful anecdotes and lively characters, The Good Doctor is a reliable choice. Whether you are already a Chekhov-convert or someone in need of a first consultation, this performance will show you an alternative side to the influential playwright, with some giggles along the way.

 

Desdemona – A play about a handkerchief

Bådteatret, Nyhavn 16, Cph K;

Starts Sat, ends April 28, performances Mon-Fri 20:00, Sat 17:00;

Tickets: over-25s 130kr, under-25s 60kr, group discounts available, www.teaterbilletter.dk

 

This is Othello as you have never seen it before. Told from the perspective of the three female characters from Shakespeare’s great tragedy – Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca –  this ironic adaptation reveals the women’s plight for freedom and independence. Adhering cleverly to Othello’s plot, writer Paula Vogel hones in on the struggles of these women and the tragic fate that awaits them. See next week’s issue for a full review.





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