Anna Chancellor leads a cast of stars bringing three of Chekhov’s earliest plays to the Chichester stage, reports Hannah Collisson

Anna Chancellor heads a 23-strong ensemble cast featuring several household names appearing at Chichester Festival Theatre this autumn in three major productions of Anton Chekhov’s early plays.

“I’m playing Arkadina in The Seagull, a role every actress wants,” as the star of Four Weddings and a Funeral has described it.

The Young Chekhov season also stars Samuel West, who plays Frank Edwards in Mr Selfridge, rising TV, film and theatre star James McCardle, Nina Sosanya, recently seen on TV in the BBC’s W1A, Peter Egan, who played Paul in the 1980s sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, Lucy Briers, the daughter of actor Richard Briers, and actors Pip Carter, Brian Pettifer and Olivia Vinall.

The season offers the first ever chance to see Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull, adapted by Bexhill-born playwright David Hare, presented as a trilogy. The Young Chekhov plays can be seen individually or together, either over different days or on one occasion as an intense theatrical experience.

These three plays, written when Russian playwright and author Anton Chekhov was young, offer a new perspective on the dramatist, revealing a youthful anger and romanticism that is very different to his mature work from his later years.

The central character in Platonov is a debt-ridden schoolteacher who is about to lose his home, yet remains irresistible to women. This, Chekhov’s earliest play, is a comedy set in the middle of nowhere.

Ivanov is an angry and outspoken satire, centring on Nikolai Ivanov, a councillor and landowner who has tried to live in a bold new way, taking risks in everything from business to romance.

The Seagull, the best known of the Young Chekhov trilogy is a meditation on love and art that is both comic and tragic.

For this season, acclaimed director Jonathan Kent returns to Chichester following his production of Gypsy last year.

Rising star James McArdle plays the title role in Platonov and Yevgeni Lvov in Ivanov.

His on-screen appearances include ITV drama Love and Marriage with Alison Steadman, and theatre credits include The James Plays at the Edinburgh Festival and National Theatre, so he has previous experience of being part of a company embarking on a major trio of plays.

“I try not to have a favourite, it’s like choosing between your two children,” he says of juggling the two roles.

James describes Petronov as an anti-capitalist. “Petronov is anarchic and wild, railing against the system that he finds himself in, in all areas of his life, in his marriage and in society.

“He has these rants that seem so modern.”

Yevgeni Lvov, on the other hand, is more of a straightforward sort of man.

“He totally understands why he’s here and sees things in black and white. He very much has a purpose.”

James says that he was familiar with Ivanov and The Seagull, but did not know Platonov so well. “It has a history as being quite a problem play and that intrigued me. There have been so many different versions, and when I read it I completely understood why; it’s so sprawling, and there is the lack of discipline and structure that one would expect from a 20-year-old man.

“I think this version has the pace and wild anarchy that’s in the play, but what David Hare has done is give it structure and made it more manageable.”

Nina Sosanya, on the other hand, says she was a relative newcomer to Chekhov before joining the ensemble cast, though this has the advantage that she does not have the comparisons to make with his later work.

The actress is a familiar face from television shows such as W1A and Last Tango In Halifax, and has performed in the West End and for the Royal Shakespeare Company, both in Stratford and London.

Nina plays two different characters, in Platonov and Ivanov, but both go by the name of Anna Petrovna.

The Anna Petrovna in the first of the trilogy, Platonov, is the young widow of a general. David Hare, has described this character as “one of the great heroines of the Russian stage”.

“It’s an amazing part,” says Nina. “She is quite free in terms of being a free spirit. She is very aware of her own power as a desirable woman. She is described as ‘emancipated’, but I don’t think by our standards she is anything like that. She is shackled by circumstance.

“Platonov is about the absurdity of life that Chekhov observes and that’s very funny as well as being awful. It’s sort of a situation comedy.

“Ivanov is more introspective although there are a lot of the same themes that are in Platonov. The world that Jonathan Kent is creating feels very different.”

The Anna Petrovna in this second play is a Jewish woman who has married Ivanov and been disinherited by her parents. “This Anna Petrovna is all for love,” says Nina.

This will be Nina’s Chichester debut and she is looking forward to settling in for the duration of the Young Chekhov season. “I think it will probably suit me,” she says. “I like the idea of living where you are working.”

Anna Chancellor, whose great-great-grandfather was prime minister Herbert Asquith, a cousin is Helena Bonham Carter and her many-times great-aunt was Jane Austen, plays Irina Arkadina in The Seagull. She recently starred in the BBC television adaptation of EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia, and has numerous film, television and theatre credits including Pram Face, Pride and Prejudice, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which she famously played Henrietta, nicknamed Duckface, who was jilted at the altar by Hugh Grant’s character. She will next be seen in a film called The Carer with Brian Cox and Emilia Fox, and in a Canadian film called Love of My Life. It’s her first leading role: “I never thought that would happen, but it’s happened to me in middle age,” she told the Sunday Times. “I’m on a roll now. Not that I believe it will last forever. But I hope so.”

• The Young Chekhov season runs from September 28 to November 14 at Chichester Festival Theatre. Performance times vary. Tickets are available from £10. To book, phone 01243 781312 or visit