The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

13/05/2017 - 03/06/2017

Production Details

“Any idiot can face a crisis; it is the day to day living that wears you out” – Anton Chekhov  

One hundred and twenty years after it was first published, Anton Chekhov’s celebrated masterpiece Uncle Vanya makes its way back onto The Court Theatre’s stage. 

Annie Baker’s critically-acclaimed revitalisation of this theatrical classic brings the play into the 21st century while retaining the timelessness of Chekhov’s wit, insight and emotional depth. 

For years, Vanya and his niece Sonya have laboured on their family’s country estate in relative harmony. But when Sonya’s father returns from the big city with a glamourous new bride, unfulfilled desires and fierce family loyalties collide to destroy the status quo. This bittersweet exploration of love, hope and longing is heartbreakingly human, achingly poignant and laced with irony. 

Director Shane Bosher is looking forward to making his directorial debut at The Court with this classic piece. “I’ve had Uncle Vanya sitting in pride of place at the top of my bucket list of ‘must direct work’ for several years now.” 

Four times named The Listener’s “Director of the year”, Bosher has an impressive resume of work, including a celebrated tenure as Artistic Director of Auckland’s Silo Theatre (2001-2014). Known for bold interpretations of classic work, Bosher is excited to turn his talents to Uncle Vanya. 

“Chekhov was a radical,” says Bosher. “Like his own Konstantin in The Seagull, he invented a new form of theatre – changing the way that audiences approach and experience drama.”

For Bosher, Uncle Vanya is full of “poetic realism” – investigating the epic moments in people’s very small domestic lives. “The production will walk a tightrope between the possibility that nothing might happen and the threat that something could. This is a play about people who have clung to their habits and delusions and are forced to confront a reality which contradicts them. Just like us and just like real-life.”

Bosher embraces the idea that “farce is natural to life. Audiences will be able to identify themselves and people they interact with in their own lives through the characters in this play. They are brothers, lovers, mothers, nieces; the annoying and glorious people we work and live with every day.”

To achieve his vision, The Court has assembled a stellar cast, with Stephen Lovatt taking on the titular role. Lovatt has been seen on New Zealand television screens in Neighbours; Spartacus; Go Girls; Top of the Lake; Hope and Wire; Hillary, and most recently on the international cult TV show Ash vs Evil Dead.

“This is the sixth time I’ve collaborated with Stephen. Over the last ten years, I’ve had the privilege of directing him in productions of When the Rain Stops Falling; Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing; Speaking in Tongues; The Only Child and Angels in America.” 

Joining Lovatt on the stage is an impressive line-up of acclaimed actors – some already beloved by Christchurch audiences, others making their Court debut. Geoffrey Heath (The Streaker) is the hypochondriac Professor, while Esther Stephens, returning after her stand-out role as Kate Sheppard in That Bloody Woman, plays the Professor’s bewitching new bride Yelena.

Making their Court debuts are Sophie Hambleton (seen on TV’s Westside) as the professor’s daughter Sonya; and Edwin Wright (most recently on-screen in the Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury prize-winning film Slow West) as the local doctor Astrov. Rounding out the cast and returning to The Shed are Yvonne Martin (Winston’s Birthday), who played Marina in The Court’s last production of Uncle Vanya in 1991, will take on the role of Maria Vasilyevna; Darien Takle (The Women) as Marina; Gregory Cooper (Niu Sila) as Telegin and Jared Corbin (A Christmas Carol) as Yefim.

While a great deal of the poetic realism Bosher is drawing on can be found in the script, the rest must be incorporated into the design. Set designer Rachael Walker, costume designer Elizabeth Whiting, lighting designer Giles Tanner and sound designer Sean Hawkins will join their talents to place audiences firmly inside Vanya’s world. 

“The designers are cultivating a set which works in the same way Shakespeare’s stage did; it’s a psychological space, which riffs on and references the large land-based sculptures of Richard Serra. The production will have a sense of timelessness,” Bosher says. 

Bosher wants the production to be alive with contradiction and encapsulate the big, obsessive, beating Russian heart that is found throughout Chekhov’s script. “The Russians take on boredom in that it creates a visceral restlessness and makes people behave in extraordinary ways.”

These extraordinary ways will be sure to draw audiences into the story, entertain them, excite them, shock them and finally move them to silence. 

Don’t miss Uncle Vanya when it opens at The Court Theatre on 13 May. 

The Tonkin & Taylor Main Stage at The Court Theatre
13 May – 3 June 2017 

Show Times:
6.30pm: Mon/Thurs
6.30pm: Forum Monday 15th May
7.30pm: Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat
2.00pm: Matinee Saturday 27th May

Ticket Prices:
Adult: $53-$58 | Under 25: $46-$51
Child (under 18): $24-$29 | Under 25: $34-$39
Senior 65yrs+: $46-$51 | Group 20+: $46-$51
Supporter: $44-$49
Bookings: phone 03 963 0870 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz  

Vanya   Stephen  Lovatt
Yelena   Esther Stephens
Maria Vasilyevna  Yvonne Martin
Sonya   Sophie Hambleton
Marina   Darien Takle
Serebryakov  Geoffrey Heath
Astrov   Edwin Wright
Yefim   Jared Corbin
Telegin   Greg Cooper

Production Team:
Director    Shane Bosher
Set Designer  Rachael Walker
Costume Designer Elizabeth Whiting
Lighting Designer  Giles Tanner
Sound Designer   Sean Hawkins 

Theatre ,

Delicate and tastefully staged production never quite musters the rawness and intimacy needed to truly move

Review by Charlie Gates 15th May 2017

One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

From the opening moment, this fresh adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s classic play signals that it will not be a traditional production. The opening action is underscored by Harry Nilsson’s classic song about how you can be lonely even when you are in the arms of another.

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do,” Nilsson sings.
“Two can be as bad as one”
“It’s the loneliest number since the number one”

What follows is living proof of that notion. [More]  


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Moments of farce or absurdity undercut the gloom

Review by Lindsay Clark 14th May 2017

This version of Chekhov’s classic summation of life’s frustrations (1898), relocates the tragi-comic original to a vaguely contemporary time. We are still in Russia on an impoverished family estate, witnessing the upheaval caused by the intrusive visit of retired professor Alexander Serebryakov and his disturbingly beautiful young second wife, Yelena Andreyevna, but costume and stage dressing are comfortably familiar.

The tetchy, gout-stricken professor is father, son, brother-in-law and ex-nursery charge to the folk who have stayed on the estate, vegetating and making do, so there is an extensive network of timeless relationships about to be laid out for us.

Whether or not the time shift really does make Chekhov’s ideas about life more transparent and ‘reveal the play’ as director Bosher intends, is a moot point. On one hand, there is a sense of recognition and immediacy seeing people a bit like ourselves out there, their doings supported by music we know and language we hear every day. On the other hand, we lose the perspective provided by distance, which sometimes makes unpalatable truth more bearable and perhaps more humorous. Either way, Annie Baker’s script, acclaimed in recent overseas productions as the one for our times, is tackled with finesse and authority. 

On Rachael Walker’s indoor/outdoor set, Chekhov’s family and hangers on are given ample space in which to play out their individual isolation and funny/sad attempts to avoid the painful inertia infecting their existence. Past and future are suspended in this uncomfortable present. 

Lovely Yelena, herself bristling with boredom, seems to have enchanted them. She is the love object of her new brother-in-law, Vanya, as well as the good doctor Astrov, whose prolonged visits ostensibly to oversee the professor’s health regime have in turn infected daughter of the house, Sonya, with unbearable romantic longing. 

Add the general disapproval or incomprehension of the rest of the household – matriarch Maria, old nanny Marina and poor neighbour Telegin – and there are limitless opportunities for episodes of hope and frustration, orchestrated and controlled by Chekhov’s unerringly astute perceptiveness.

Alexander’s proposal to sell the estate (in law it has been inherited by Sonya from her mother, Alexander’s first wife), triggers an impassioned and violent response from Vanya, precipitating the departure of the visitors. With it comes the knowledge that things will be as before: the grinding drudgery of managing the estate with forlorn but resolute Sonya, as well as his failure to live beyond its confines, in realms where his imagination might have led him. 

There are no winners, but at every turn where tragedy might be on the rise, moments of farce or absurdity undercut the gloom and it is this constant shift of response which allows the play to build again and again.

The creative team establishes the autumnal design in harmony with these poignant but dramatic movements. From clever set to thoughtful costume (Elizabeth Whiting), lighting design (Giles Tanner) and sound design (Sean Hawkins) – such storms! – the production inventively supports the aspiration for its director Bosher to recreate “the experience that Chekhov wanted his audience to have”.

Similarly well-knit is the cast. Edwin Wright as Astrov, the only character who is actually doing something positive, shows the slightly weary cynicism of understanding life and death. As his patient, Alexander, Geoffrey Heath shows us the perils of utter self-conviction and as his helplessly provocative wife Yelena, Esther Stephens is well in control. Sonya’s complex role is brought truthfully and tenderly to life by Sophie Hambleton and as the titular Vanya, Stephen Lovatt is never less than assured.

All up, the production is a fine example of a company working with great integrity and skill to bring Chekhov’s human observations of long ago to deserved attention in our age preoccupied by technology and progress. 


Editor May 19th, 2017

Here is the link to Lindsay Clark’s chat about UNCLE VANYA with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ, Thursday 18 May 2017.

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