Anton Chekhov in a new version by Peter Gill
Some pertinent and timeless issues run through this re-worked production of the Chekhov classic, Uncle Vanya.
The ever-relevant theme of ecology and a changing environment surfaces throughout, while a simmering family feud bubbles under the dialogue like an awakening volcano. Throw a few doses of unrequited love into the mix and you have the perfect ingredients for an eruption, although it does take a while to arrive.
Peter Gill has stayed true to the original play, setting it in rural Russia at the dawn of the twentieth century. Vanya, Jamie Ballard, is a disillusioned soul, drowning his frustrations at a perceived futile existence in the bottle and his mood is certainly not improved by the arrival of his brother-in-law Serebryakov, presented as both suave and slightly sinister by the excellent Martin Turner, and his young wife Elena.
Shanaya Rafaat’s performance is an under-stated strength of the production as she drifts across the stage professing her love for Serebryakov whilst exciting love in the increasingly desperate Vanya.
Lucy Osborne’s striking design sees the production performed in-the-round which adds to the intimacy of the production, but also has tree branches protruding from above which ensures we never forget the relevance of the natural environment and adds to the air of uncertainty that hangs over the storyline.
The first half of the production is somewhat painstaking, as family and love issues are developed. Vanya yearns for the seemingly unobtainable Elena, while his niece Sonya, touchingly played by Rosie Sheehy, is in love with Oliver Dimsdale’s Dr Astrov, a man keenly aware of the impact of the changing environment.
However, the second half sees the production burst into life spectacularly as the simmering tensions boil over as a result of Serebryakov’s plans to sell the estate which has been Vanya’s life work.
This is a well performed, if slightly uneven, production which highlights the endless theme of family tensions alongside questions on the purpose of life.
Reviewer: Dave Jennings