Theatre review: The Letter

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Now here’s a quaint old thing, and no mistake; a stage version by playwright Stuart Paterson of a neat and telling story by Chekhov, set in a small-town Russian hinterland that might almost as well be 19th-century Peebles or Pitlochry, and featuring two fine veterans of the Scottish stage, Billy Riddoch and Laurie Ventry, as a contrasting pair of clerics with different views of what Christianity might mean.

Oran Mor, Glasgow

**

Riddoch is the disgraced old clergyman Fr Anastasy, banned from his own church for allegedly arguing with colleagues and fiddling the books; Ventry is Deacon Andrey, a stern figure who has little time for the old man’s complaints. And when they are joined by a third clergyman, Fyodor Orlov, who is distraught over the behaviour of his tearaway student son, Deacon Andrey is easily persuaded to dictate a towering letter, telling the boy that his sinful ways are disgrace to man and God.

The problem is that all this is delivered in such an archaic style – all nods and winks to the audience, and heavy pauses for laughter – that not even the presence on stage of director David Mackay, forced to play Orlov script in hand after one of his actors dropped out, can make the play look like much more than a museum piece. There is a delicious Chekhovian moment at the end, when Fr Anastasy advises Orlov simply to write to his son from the heart; but more of this straightforward emotion, and less turgid signalling to the audience, might have transformed this ponderous piece of theatre into something much more contemporary and urgent, and much more enjoyable.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Final performance today.

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