BBC Radio 4 Extra, 13 February 2013
First broadcast in 2002, Anton in Eastbourne is Tinniswood's hommage to
Chekhov, especially written for the late Paul Scofield. It concerns the eponymous hero (Scofield), who spends most
of his time in a Eastbourne, who befriends a much younger woman (Emma Fielding) and eventually persuades her to leave her
boyfriend in London. Tinniswood has obviously taken a crash course in 'Chekhovian' drama; he leaves us in continual suspense
as to whether Anton is fantasizing, or perceives himself as some kind of a soothsayer, or really believes that his life contains
no coherent meaning. The play meanders along to no particular conclusion, other than to show the young lady participating
- either willingly or unwillingly - in Anton's 'Chekhovian' word-games.
Anton in Eastbourne contains numerous examples of Tinniswood's unique gift;
his ability to juxtapose words as much for their sound as their sense. His plays are very actor-friendly; and so it proved
in Enyd Williams' production, with Scofield having the chance to employ a variety of vocal tones and shades, revelling in
his ability to create word-pictures that both beguile and exasperate the young lady. Anton took an obvious pleasure in
his craft, despite the modest surroundings in which he lived.
But I'm not sure whether Anton in Eastbourne is very 'Chekhovian' in tone.
On the contrary, the play struck me as peculiarly British in its portrayal of an emotionally stunted central character who
employs words to obfuscate rather than clarify what he wanted to say. The play lacked the shifts in tone and mood that one
finds in a Chekhov play - even in translation. Maybe there's no such thing as a 'Chekhovian' style: I suggest the term describes
the kind of writing that resists classification. I don't think one 'makes sense' of Chekhov; his plays are there to be experienced.
Anton in Eastbourne is not really in the same class; but as an example of Tinniswood's own work, it's beguiling enough.