One of Manipulate Festival’s pioneering puppet shows, After Chekov is a memory-driven, sometimes haunting tale of three inseparable triplets living in a startlingly empty place. Based loosely around Chekov’s The Three Sisters, the show uses multi-purpose props and uncanny puppets to create a show that, at its best, is captivating and intriguing. Sadly, it doesn’t keep you hooked constantly, especially if you’re less familiar with Chekov’s work, but La Compagnie Samolœt still leaves you with plenty to admire.
The first thing that strikes you is the bareness of the stage. Minus some long, dead-looking grass glinting in some warm light, there is nothing. It is up to the three performers to bring the stage to life with an ingenious array of props and puppets. The metal frames doubling up as windows, then beds are especially sleek. The puppets themselves are minute, and need only the slightest of movements to appear filled with life. The core of the characters swaps from time to time from the puppets to the puppeteers, generating a distortion that adds to the eerie atmosphere. There are moments where the play feels almost jovial, the adoration between the sisters becoming clear, before it shudders back into a less comforting aura. It is a dimly lit frolic amidst the darkness.
The best moments of After Chekov are saved for the latter half of the performance, when the play takes on a more spiritual and ghostly edge. A moment where a white spirit torments one of the girls is simple, but suitably unnerving. As the shadows of the girls project onto the black curtains, it feels like you are sitting in someone’s disconcerting dream.
Exactly how receptive you are to this depends on how well you understand what is happening. Unless you have a basic knowledge of The Three Sisters, After Chekov can prove difficult to follow and engage with. The admiration comes mostly on an aesthetic level rather than a narrative one.
A fascinating foray of memories and marionettes, After Chekov is an impressive showcase of puppeteering skill and the apparently timeless ability of puppets to defy expectations.