Characters in two separate Chekhov plays find romance

Roisin McBrinn
Roisin McBrinn
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Director Roisin McBrinn says she has been fascinated by what inspired playwright Brian Friel to put two characters from another writer’s plays together for a brief encounter in his drama Afterplay.

Afterplay, which is part of the current Brian Friel at Sheffield Theatres, takes two characters from two of Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov’s plays and has them strike up a friendship in a Moscow cafe.

Sonya, played by Niamh Cusack, is originally from Uncle Vanya and Andrey (Sean Gallagher) is a character who appears in The Three Sisters.

In Brian Friel’s play, each has had to cope with difficulties in life and battled on somehow.

In Friel’s play they seem on the verge of finding romance together to help overcome what Sonya calls “the vast tundra of loneliness”.

Roisin said: “It’s a fascinating idea. I’ve wondered through these weeks if the mystery of those characters haunted him a little bit.

“He did a translation of Uncle Vanya in 1998 and Andrey must have stayed with him. He must have thought, what has happened to them both?”

Roisin said: “It’s a very tender encounter between two unique individuals at a certain point in their lives.

“I consider it as a chamber piece where these two beautiful voices try very hard to come together. Part of the excitement is finding out if they do or don’t.”

She described exploring Friel’s script as “like putting a microscope on a hair, really inspirational and tantalising”.

She said that the Donegal-based writer is “quite possibly the world’s greatest playwright”, adding: “The best have this capacity to embody human nature on the stage, which might sound achievable but takes a genius, I think. I don’t use the word lightly.’’

Originally from Dublin, Roisin is associate director of Sherman Cymru theatre in Cardiff, looking after new writing by Wales-based and Welsh writers. She said that Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans has travelled to watch a lot of her work and asked her to come to Sheffield for the Friel season.

She added: “Daniel is exceptional as an artistic director with the commitment he makes to his work. I don’t know how he’s fitted it in. He’s travelled across the country to see my productions.”

Afterplay is at the Crucible Studio until Saturday. It’s beautifully acted and directed and well worth catching. Box office: at the Crucible, online at or call 0114 2496000.