In a world where the lives of artists are as interesting as the work they produce, 16 Possible Glimpses is a tantalising prospect. Marina Carr’s play takes a look at the life of Anton Chekhov, fracturing it down into 16 fictionalised sequences and leaving the Abbey Theatre’s Associate Director Wayne Jordan to sew them together.
Chekhov’s life certainly seems to provide rich pickings for such a bio-drama and is here presented not as a dour Russian playwright but as a playboy, carouser, caring brother and egocentric artist. We watch his life unfold through a mixture of slow motion sequences, live stage filming, and projections. There is a lot of snow and a silhouetted, hooded monk. The production never bores its audience but its stylishness feels hollow and slightly desperate. One starts to wonder if Jordan really trusts Carr’s material. A large amount of this stage business feels superfluous. It’s hard to work out why certain moments are filmed, for example, while others are not; the balletic removal and then immediate replacement of the chairs in a café scene also feels something of a mystery.
Naomi Wilkinson’s design is beautiful if disparate. A blood red frame papered like a nightmarish bourgeois drawing room encases a tight box space, the landscape of which is reminiscent of the work of Giorgio de Chirico. Chairs and tables indicate place and yet the whole set seems to encourage a sense of bodies floating in space. Costumes call on both the 1890s and 1950s, a device which is distracting.
Scenes flicker in front of us like a film out of sequence, mingling abstraction with naturalism. Chekhov is presented as a lover, a man confronting his own death, a self-centred sibling, and a celebrity beleaguered by the press. For such a disjointed structure to emotionally engage its audience, Chekhov as a character requires some unifying charisma, a likeability, something to bind us to him. But while Patrick O’Kane’s performance is intensely committed, at times he felt removed from his role, playing Chekhov as a man consumed by some internal conflict that he could not fully communicate to us.
16 Possible Glimpses is a production full of potential but the right questions are not being asked. Why did Chekhov behave like a philander towards women whilst needing them so desperately? What was it that drove him to write in the face of a crippling sense of mediocrity? Jordan’s flashy production seems to feel this need for answers as keenly as the audience do and his grandiose external dressing feels like nothing more than compensation.