Andrew Buckland fully embodies the quibbling, timid husband yearning for more from Chekov’s On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco. Baxter Theatre Centre’s adaptation retains much of the character and less of the tone of Chekov’s wistful play, incorporating a more lighthearted strand of hope by utilising Buckland’s clowning skills.

Buckland’s character, Ivan, is let loose from his wife’s boarding-school-like business to venture into public and deliver a speech on the harmful effects of tobacco, but his lecture rarely strays towards his wife’s intended subject. Instead, it represents a rare moment of respite and honesty for Ivan, who takes the opportunity to vent all of his complex feelings about his wife and his ultimate desire for freedom.

Buckland uses clowning in moments of nervousness or excitement: as he says something bold he scampers up his podium or slides down. It isn’t just these affectations that seem cartoonish: the blustering, timid humor from the man with the bulbous nose can at times seem two dimensional or repetitive. However, some of the mannerisms and props that Buckland adopts serve to heighten the sense of the absurd from the beginning. It isn’t that the character in need of escape isn’t performed well so much that his inner unhappiness is perfectly illuminated from the first minutes, obscuring Chekov’s important character development.

This eerie animated lecture rings of turn-of-the-century lust for exploration and changing societal roles, but the true anxiety at the heart of Chekov’s play is lost in the clowning, taking away from the tension at the source of the drama.

Words: Emily Hall 

Tobacco, Assembly George Square Studios, Aug 24-27, 12pm

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