Chekhov’s First Play

Actor Cillian Murphy guest edits issue 25’s Commentary, drawing inspiration from luminous creatives in his native Ireland. Here, he selects an extract from the electric theatre company Dead Centre 

Dead Centre are one of Ireland’s most exciting theatre companies. I first saw their production Lippy at the Young Vic, in London, in 2015 – a truly haunting and original piece of work. Since then artistic directors Bush Moukarzel and Ben Kidd have continued to write and direct shows that fearlessly investigate and deconstruct their medium, while always delivering unpredictable and memorable nights in the theatre. Here’s a taste of some of their work: two extracts from a new piece… But for the real deal get yourself to one of their shows.

– Cillian Murphy 


As they enter, the audience are each given a set of headphones.

A red curtain.

The Director enters, holding a gun, stands in front of the curtain. He is dressed as himself. He goes to the microphone.

The Director. (whispers) Hello. I’m the director. Thanks for coming to – (out loud, off mic) Oh, you need to put your headphones on in order to hear me. (Back to microphone, whispers) Hello. I’m the director. Are all your headphones working? Let’s do a quick sound check: you should be hearing this in your left ear (they should) and you should be hearing this in your right ear (they should). Our production manager will swap them out if anyone has a faulty set.

Thanks for coming to tonight’s performance of Chekhov’s First Play.

You’re probably wondering why you’re all in headphones. Well, I did a version of this show last year and it went ok, but, talking to people afterwards, it became clear that a lot of people didn’t really get it, they didn’t really understand what I was trying to do. And that’s understandable because Chekhov’s first play is really complicated and messy… so I thought I’d set up a director’s commentary to explain what’s going on, what it’s about, and why you should like it. Personally, I always need things explained to me, especially art. I’m the kind of guy who goes to an art gallery and spends all the time reading the writing on the wall next to the paintings. I hardly ever look at the paintings.

And a lot of theatre, too, can feel complicated and inaccessible, especially these old plays, the classics. But they’re worth doing. They tell us so much about the world we live in now, they ask the big questions: who am I? What kind of a society do I want to live in? What do I want?

Chekhov was 19 when he wrote this and, as you’ll see, it’s not a very good play, but it’s hugely ambitious. It’s like all his other plays were in there, waiting to get out, all his ideas. This gun, for example. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the idea ‘Chekhov’s gun’ – it’s the idea that if you have a gun in a play… if you… if there’s a gun then you fire it… erm… actually I’ll explain that later… erm…

So, hopefully this commentary will make things clearer.

Ok, I’ll be offstage so I won’t distract you, I’ll just be a voice in your head. If you’re anything like me you already have a voice in your head anyway, so tonight you’ll have two. Hope it’s not too strange. It can feel a little intimate. Like even though everyone can hear this, it feels like I’m just talking… to you.

Looks at single audience member.

How are you? Comfortable? Make yourself at home. A theatre seat actually is sort of a home. It’s legally your private property for the duration of the performance. I found this out the other day.

Pointing gun at audience member.

That, even if you hadn’t come tonight, I couldn’t re-sell your ticket, as that seat is your private property.

Taking gun away.

And property, of course, is one of Chekhov’s main themes… See, that’s the sort of thing I’ll be doing throughout the commentary, unpacking key themes, making connections… And I know this microphone is very sensitive, so I’m sorry if you can hear me breathing, it’s a bad habit of mine.

Let’s get started.

Goes to leave but then stops

And I recommend keeping the headphones on, but if there are any members of the audience who are comfortable with the classics, feel free to take them off at any point and enjoy the play, as Chekhov intended.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Chekhov’s First Play.


A spotlight appears on a single audience member. The audience member slowly rises from their seat and moves forward on to the stage. They are hearing a different track from everyone else. They are receiving private instructions. They are Platonov.

The sound of the city. Traffic and electricity.

Platonov moves to the table and sits down. 

Everyone looks at him.

Everyone moves over to the table and sits.

Platonov pours shots of vodka for everyone.

They pick up the shot glasses.

One, two, three: everyone drinks.

Music starts.

All dialogue is now pre-recorded. The performers lip-sync their lines. They are losing their voices as they are losing themselves. At once liberated and truncated.

ANNA. How could you make us wait so long? It feels like we’ve been waiting a hundred years. It’s good to see you. Now we can have the fireworks

The demolition ball bursts into flames.

They all dance. It is a choreographed number. Platonov stands front and centre, and is obviously lost.

SASHA stops dancing and looks at her husband. She looks closely, and perhaps suspects he isn’t who he says he is. The others dance, synchronised.

SASHA. Are you ok? You’re acting funny. Come and sit down. Where have you been? You’re always late. You’ll be late to your own funeral. The late Platonov! Do you have a light? Do you even… smoke? I can’t remember. You’re like a stranger to me. Anyway, we can stay for a bit but then can we go? I don’t feel great. You don’t look so good either. Have you changed your hair? No, that’s not it. Have you changed your… face?

The others gradually finish dancing and the evening continues. They have been liberated by Platonov’s arrival and swirl around the stage. We only hear them when they are close to Platonov.

ANNA. Let me get you a drink, Platonov. Or something stronger? Now you’re here we should get a little high, don’t you think. Let our hair down. Be ourselves.

ANNA shivers.

ANNA. Someone googled me.

TRILETSKY. Here, man. Do us a favour? Would you play us that song? You know, the one we used to sing together in college? Christy Moore. The one about the airport.

He puts the guitar in Platonov’s hands.

I love that song. Go!

GLAGOLYEV. (Takes away guitar.) I hate your singing.

TRILETSKY. Irish music is the best in the world! Ireland’s the best country in the world.

GLAGOLYEV. It is and it isn’t.

TRILETSKY. I’ve been to London, and New York, whatever, and Berlin. Barcelona. Paris.

GLAGOLYEV. Great cities.

TRILETSKY. No they’re shite.

GLAGOLYEV. What do you mean?

TRILETSKY gets up on the table. The others throw food at him.

TRILETSKY. Because in one of those cities you can be at a party having the time of your life but you just know that somewhere else on the top floor of some building someone is having a better time, in a better life… you just KNOW that Kanye and Kim

or David Bowie

or Björk

or Marina Abramović

or somebody rich

or Prince

or an actual royal prince

or the fresh prince, Will Smith

or Zadie Smith

or Miranda July

or Anton Chekhov

or Kate Bush

or Kim Noble

or Miley Cyrus

or Billy Ray Cyrus

or P Diddy

or Brangelina

or Kate Moss

or Simon Cowell

or Angela Merkel

or Lena Dunham

or Eric Cantona

or Michelle Obama

or Chris Eubank

or Jay Z

or Dennis Hopper

or Marlon Brando

or Elvis Costello

or Snoop Dogg

or Tyler, the Creator

or Jim Jarmusch

or Jackie Chan

or Salman Rushdie

or Yanis Varoufakis

or Harmony Korine

or Castellucci

or Vladimir Putin

or Will Oldham

or Miet Warlop

or Nicki Minaj

or Thomas Ostermeier

or Michael Myers

or Matthew Barney

or Christopher Brett Bailey

or Tino Sehgal

or Steven Seagal

or Andy Lee

or Simon McBurney

or Justin Bieber

or Kenneth Goldsmith

or Macaulay Culkin

or Anna Wintour

or the fella out of the fuckin’ Arctic Monkeys are out there somewhere, having a better time than you. But here, in Dublin, there’s no such thing as famous people. There’s just us, Platonov. Think about it. What else is there? This might just be the coolest party in the whole country.

This article is taken from issue 25. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here