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Dear Uncle

Alan Ayckbourn, adapted from Chekhov
Theatre By The Lake, Keswick
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Set in the Lake District of the 1930s, Alan Ayckbourn’s version of Chekhov’s oblique Uncle Vanya ought to be quite at home here.

Locals among the audience are particularly taken with the occasional references to nearby place names, and amongst the theatregoers it’s not too much a stretch of the imagination to pick out characters whose prototypes are up on stage.

So a drama that knows its place, and its audience, must have seemed an obvious addition to this venue’s six-pack of plays for its six-month summer season.

It’s only the second professional production since Ayckbourn adapted the original in 2011. He, and Chekhov, are masters at balancing that fine line between comedy and tragedy, even if this performance doesn’t always quite teeter to the same effect.

In a play that’s all about missed opportunity—and, famously, the missed target of a couple of gunshots—perhaps that was the desired result?

Dear Uncle only seems able to skate across the surface of the family troubles at the heart of the story and is not always able to deliver the laughs when any one of the characters slips and slides on to their metaphorical backside.

In the first act, they seem unable to have natural conversation without having to explain family relationships, history and other salient plot points. The second act, and its setting around the dinner table, picks up the beat, but still leaves you with a set of folk who deserve slapping rather than much sympathy. The protracted ending has never seemed quite so prolonged.

None of this is the fault of an excellent cast. Chris Porter, as the lovelorn Dr Ash, sets the standard.

But designer Louie Whitemore’s vivid Lakeland backdrop to the whole story rather underscores the feeling that this is an Impressionist watercolour of Chekhov’s original oil painting.

Reviewer: David Upton