After eight years of theatricalizing the stories of Anton Chekhov, Theatre Smith-Gilmour is packing up and moving from Russia to England. Onstage, that is.
The Mansfield Project is based on four stories by the New Zealand-born author Katherine Mansfield, who lived in England in the first part of the 1900s and befriended other writers like D.H. Lawrence.
“We seem obsessed with the first two decades of that century,” says Dean Gilmour, the company’s artistic director, “and we wanted to explore a strong woman’s voice of that time. Also, Mansfield was a huge lover of Chekhov’s work.”
But whereas Chekhov was also a dramatist and liked exploring dramatic action and dialogue, Mansfield stuck exclusively to sketches and short fiction.
“She felt form should grow out of the material, ideas and content,” says Gilmour. “So her writing can be fragmented and dreamlike. There’s an emotional journey in her work that doesn’t necessarily link up to a dramatic line.”
The company employed a similar process in determining which stories to adapt. Someone in the company – which includes co-artistic director Michele Smith and actors Claire Calnan and Adam Paolozza – had to connect personally to a particular story.
“And then we had to wonder if we could put it onstage,” says Gilmour. “It’s about mobilizing the audience’s imagination.”
And while Chekhov’s stories are dominated by men, prompting some cross-gender role-playing, the opposite’s true in this work.
“There are some great women’s roles here,” says Gilmour, who’ll perform in drag. “Of course I’ve had to shave.”