Uncle Vanya

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

28/04/2007 - 02/06/2007

Production Details

By Anton Chekhov, Translated by Stuart Young
Directed by SUSAN WILSON


Uncle Vanya, a captivating story of tangled and tragic love by one of the best, most original and influential playwrights of all time, opens at CIRCA Theatre on Saturday 28th April at 8pm, and runs until 2nd June.

Chekhov’s superbly comic and beautifully tender masterpiece is set on the family’s remote country estate, where Vanya, his niece, Sonya and the local doctor, Astrov find the calm of their lives thrown into chaos by the arrival of Sonya’s father, the ailing Professor Serebryakov and his beautiful young wife, Yelena.

An acutely observed study of humanity, Uncle Vanya is a brilliant and unforgettable classic of Russian theatre. Lev Dodin, the director of St Petersburg’s Maly Theatre who is world renowned for its interpretation of Chekhov, describes Uncle Vanya as “A diamond. It is the most beautiful and crystalline of all Chekhov’s plays.”

Subtitled “Scenes from a Village Life” Uncle Vanya wonderfully illustrates Chekhov’s celebrated gift for capturing the ordinariness of people’s everyday lives. He said famously: “Let everything on the stage be just as complex and at the same time just as simple as in life.  People dine, merely dine, but at that moment their happiness is being made or their life is being smashed.”

In Uncle Vanya Chekhov shows us people trying, increasingly desperately, to inject some drama into their very ordinary, unremarkable lives in order to escape the sense – especially acute in Vanya’s case – of a life wasted and unfulfilled.  In Chekhov’s hands, this is both poignant and deeply comic. Chekhov always insisted that his plays are comedies, and this is certainly true of Uncle Vanya, which features elements of pure farce and whose tone is, above all, ironic. Vanya’s predicament is however universally recognizable – everyone knows what it is like to be gripped by a dream and not succeed – and yet at the end, there is consolation.

With a wonderful cast that is a fine blend of experience and rising talent, a new up-to-date local translation by New Zealander Stuart Young (The Cherry Orchard), beautiful costumes by Gillie Coxill, and directed by leading director Susan Wilson (Death of a Salesman, The Cherry Orchard), Uncle Vanya is exciting, special, and not-to-be-missed theatre.

Serebryakov, a retired professor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . PETER VERE-JONES
Yelena, his wife . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . DANIELLE MASON
Sonya, his daughter by his first wife . . . . . . . . . . . . MEL DODGE
Mariya, mother of the professor's first wife . . . . . . DONNA AKERSTEN
Vanya, her son . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . BRUCE PHILLIPS
Astrov, a doctor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JEFFREY THOMAS
Telyegin (Waffles) an impoverished landowner . . GAVIN RUTHERFORD
Marina, an old nurse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . KATE HARCOURT

Set Designed by JOHN HODGKINS
Lighting Design by PHILLIP DEXTER
Costume Design by GILLIE COXILL

Stage Manager . . . . . . . . . . . . Eric Gardiner
Technical Operator . . . . . . . . James Kearney
Costume construction . . . . . . Gillie Coxill, Lachlan Mayclair, Zoe Fox
Sound . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Jeremy Cullen, Susan Wilson
Set Construction . . . . . . . . . . .Iain Cooper, John Hodgkins
Set Painting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Eileen McCann
Publicity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Claire Treloar
Graphic Design . . . . . . . . . . . . Rose Miller, Parlour
Photography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Stephen A'Court
House Manager . . . . . . . . . . . .Suzanne Blackburn
Front of House . . . . . . . . . . . . Linda Wilson

Theatre ,

2 hrs 20 mins, one interval

Social satire moves and endures

Review by Eleanor Bishop 18th Jul 2007

Chekhov’s writing teeters on the edge of tragedy, edges towards comedy, and always, always makes my heart wrench. Even at my most cynical – and with my BA in Theatre finished, and my days taken up with studying Marketing, I certainly am cynical – Chekhov still does that to me. What’s more, he does that to me just from reading the text. Performed, Chekhov is a whole other story. Thus, a bad production of Chekhov makes me want to vomit, run up on stage and shout: "No, no, no! Nina should be played like this!" while I flail my arms madly and try to act.

Fortunately, the Circa audience was spared that spectacle. Susan Wilson’s production of Uncle Vanya is excellent. Vanya is a story of "tangled and tragic love." Vanya (Bruce Phillips) and his niece Sonya (Mel Dodge) live quietly on a country estate until Sonya’s father, Professor Serebryakov (Peter Vere-Jones), arrives with his beautiful young wife, Yelena (Danielle Mason). Yelena’s presence brings out the desperation in Vanya as he aches for her love. Her youth and beauty are a reminder of the life he has wasted. Similarly, the Doctor (Jeffrey Thomas) is also captured by Yelena’s charm and beauty. Unfortunately for sister-in-law Sonya, who loves the Doctor, Yelena shares the attraction, being acutely aware that she no longer loves her sick and old husband. Alas, love is unfulfilled.

Bruce Phillips is a delight as Vanya, and plays one of the key roles in turning the tragedy tragicomic. Overall, the moments where everything appears ordinary but a character quietly turns away and sobs are played with heart, and avoid the ultimate pitfall of Chekhov: melodrama. The set is simple: old-fashioned furniture is contrasted with a wall of stripped-back wallpaper. I’m not sure exactly what this is supposed to signify – the stripping away of the characters’ secrets, perhaps? Lighting conveys the simple changes in time and place, as well as focusing our attention on certain characters. The production uses a New Zealand translation of the work, by the excellent Stuart Young. In fact, the translation is so good that you almost don’t notice it, apart from the odd chuckles at some stray Kiwi-isms.

While The Seagull is certainly my favourite Chekhov play – perhaps because  it’s the most moving – Uncle Vanya combines Chekhov’s brilliant social satire with moving relationships and poignant modern-day messages.

One young theatre-goer commented to me upon leaving the auditorium: "I didn’t get it… I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry." I replied: "That, my dear friend, is Chekhov." And that is why Chekhov endures.


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More philosophic than active

Review by Kate Blackhurst 12th May 2007

CHEKHOV is known as one of those playwrights whose work you feel you really ‘should’ see. Susan Wilson directs a performance that you actually want to see, as she encourages the cast to bring out the humour in the melancholy. The small audience (the theatre was less than a quarter full on the night that I attended; a testament to the perception of the playwright) appreciated the shades of relief, laughing at the self-indulgent characters and the lighter moments.

Anyone who has ever suffered inconsiderate house guests can appreciate the disruption that Serebryakov, a retired professor and his young wife Yelena bring to the decayed estate they visit, run by Sonya (the professor’s daughter by his first wife), Mariya (mother of the professor’s first wife) and Vanya (her son). The cast is completed by Telyegin, an impoverished landowner and Marina, an old nurse who also live on the estate. Although there are few characters, it is hard to remember the relationships, and it wouldn’t hurt to draw up a little family tree to work out in-laws, siblings, and step-parents.

The doctor, Astrov, regularly calls on the household, firstly due to Serebryakov’s hypochondria, but subsequently because he becomes enchanted by Yelena. Vanya is also bewitched by her and although she clearly doesn’t love her stuffy old husband, or have any interest in either of these love-sick men, she enjoys and encourages their attentions. There’s a word for women like that. Sonya is also in love with Astrov, completing the irregular love triangle.

The play concerns philosophy more than action with many lengthy debates between the men. The town vs. country and the academic vs. worker arguments are embodied in the rivalry between Serebryakov and Vanya. Serebryakov has been “writing for 25 years about things intelligent people have known all the time and stupid people aren’t interested in anyway,” while Vanya has been working on the estate. Lack of sleep and frayed tempers lead to a melodramatic scene, in which tensions bubble over like the eternal samovar. The men behave like children, ranting and raving and waving guns about, posturing like ‘cackling old ganders’ while the women are left to clear up the pieces.

The ending of the play remains depressing. As the professor, his wife and the doctor all depart, the remaining characters repeat “they’ve gone” until it sounds like the tolling of a death knell. Vanya talks of ending his life, but Sonya cautions they must ‘endure’ living through a “long, long succession of days and tedious evenings” which really doesn’t sound appealing. Although the professor chides ironically with his parting words, “You must take action. You must do something”, the light fades on them all seated motionless around a table with no sense of hope.

It is hard, however to feel sympathy for Vanya, played by Bruce Phillips. He moons about like a teenager in love, indulging in lots of bizarre stage business in which he puts various things on his head; a candle; a chair; a cushion. His tantrums become simply irritating and although he asserts that he is 47, he looks much older. He is meant to be 10 years older than Yelena, but is at least twice her age, making his attraction to her slightly creepy, and looks more like Sonya’s father than her brother, adding to the character confusion.

Peter Vere-Jones’s Serebryakov is obsessed with growing old, boredom and melancholy. His extravagant grumpiness calls to mind Richard Wilson’s Victor Meldrew with one foot in the grave. His mother-in-law, Mariya is played with calm control by Donna Akersten, and Danielle Mason is flawless as Yelena, striking the perfect balance between jaded lethargy and wretched unhappiness. Yelena’s scenes with Sonya are the most powerful moments of the play, because we may connect with them. Mel Dodge as Sonya gives a fabulous portrayal of what could threaten to be a dull character, and Jeffrey Thomas’ suave doctor Astrov is played with a hint of menace.

Much of the humour and social comment is left to the ‘minor’ characters; Marina and Telyegin, compassionately presented by Kate Harcourt and Gavin Rutherford respectively, who aren’t on stage nearly enough.

The versatile three-sided set allows the audience to get up close and personal, although the meagre props and furniture look lost as they are scattered in the large space. I’m also not sure about the peculiar sackcloth backdrop daubed with dull paint which may attempt to depict the run down estate, the destruction of the habitat echoed in Astrov’s charts or the nature of camouflage and hidden feelings. Whatever the symbolism, if you have to try and interpret the set, it doesn’t work.

The excellent costumes, designed by Gillie Coxhill, do work however, with glorious waistcoats, high-waisted woollen trousers and long skirts rustling across the floor, accentuating movement from Yelena’s languid strolls, “reeling from indolence as she moves”, to Sonya’s hastened strides. Lighting and sound are both subtle and essential, underscoring the atmosphere with birdsong, thunder, crickets, and music, depicting a stormy night or a soft summer afternoon equally unobtrusively.

Much has been made of the modern Kiwi translation by Stuart Young which is generally inconspicuous. I understand the need to remove the ‘Englishness’ – this is a Russian play after-all – but terms such as ‘bludger’ or being ‘ground down by weirdos’ seem to be trying too hard to set the play in a modern context, which doesn’t sit well with the samovar. Nonetheless, true to the legend of Chekhov, this play you should really get along to see.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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New life in second half

Review by Lynn Freeman 03rd May 2007

"Chekhov’s plays start in gloom and end in misery".  More wisdom garnered from the Ladies room during the half time break of Uncle Vanya.  She got it right with this, it must be said, lesser work of the great playwright.  There is laughter through the tears, Chekov was regarded as quite the comedian in Russia at the time.  This is, however, another dysfunctional family trapped in the Russian provinces, down on their luck, with pretty much everybody yearning for something they can never have.

Vanya, for example, at 47, is desperately in love with Yelena, the dazzling young wife of Prof Serebryakov – previously married to Vanya’s now deceased sister.  Spinster Sonya, child of that first marriage, is entirely infatuated with the charming Dr Astrov.  Yelena has her own infatuation to complicate matters, realising too late that her love for the old Prof was never real.  Poor impoverished Telyegin remains true to his cheating, deserting wife and old nurse Marina yearns for the good old days.

For the first half of the production, which drags unforgivably, pretty much nothing happens.  The characters complain about their lot in life, talk about their desperate boredom – trouble is, it’s catching.  Hang in there though because with the second half comes new life – conflict, real emotion, violence.

In a role that could be dull at ditchwater, Mel Dodge is a knockout as Sonya, enlivening every scene she’s in, and as Astrov, Jeffrey Thomas reaffirms his gift for saving Chekhov’s often stilted dialogue with his delivery and his on stage charm. 

There’s no doubting that Danielle Mason’s Yelena would have every man lose his head and his heart to the girl, and as the crotchety Serebryakov, Peter Vere-Jones plays the kind of role he’s at risk of being typecast in (but by jove he does it well).

There were far too few scenes with the desperately needed comic relief in the form of Gavin Rutherford (an endearing Telyegin) and Kate Harcourt (having great fun as Marina).  Alas, Bruce Phillips, so often the star of the show, is miscast as Vanya – he’s too old (sorry Bruce!) and too whiney, and after the tenth time seeing him hold his head in his hands you just wonder why the director lets it happen.

The play and the production aren’t a patch on last year’s fantastic The Cherry Orchard, also directed by Susan Wilson and starring several of the aforementioned cast.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some quality acting here to be seen and enjoyed. 


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Life’s searching questions

Review by Melody Nixon 01st May 2007

THE CIRCA crew who brought us Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard in 2005 are back this year with a production of the Russian master’s challenging and problematic comedy Uncle Vanya. Full of wry remarks, frantic speeches and seething desperation, Uncle Vanya is an unsettling comedy about the search for meaning in life, via a thread of old age and destruction. In true Chekhovian style it is also a story about love in which ardour never actually occurs, but is left floating in the space somewhere between two hapless lovers.

This Circa production has varying success in bringing Uncle Vanya to the stage. Ultimately the farcical, near slapstick comedy Susan Wilson is aiming for succeeds, with moments of tenderness and grave poignancy shining through, particularly from Mel Dodge as Sonya and Jeffrey Thomas as Astrov. Thomas very capably captures the essence of the doctor, whose slow struggle with reason and final position of cynicism points bleakly to a strong theme of the play: that “the struggle for existence is beyond people’s strength”.

Young, unhappy wife Yelena, played by Danielle Mason, offers a biting counterpoint to Astrov’s nay saying; “the world won’t be destroyed by violence but by petty squabbles”. Mason manages the alternately conflicted and eloquent position of Yelena well, negotiating the tension between characters with metered self-expression. Bruce Phillips as Uncle Vanya is brilliantly funny in Vanya’s states of mad, frenetic despair. Yet the portrayal of this character in a continuously farcical manner seems to detract from the subtle complexity of his position. He is not merely a “weirdo”, he is every person struggling with the magnitude of realizing they have, in essence, nothing to do.

While an inspired seating arrangement transforms the Circa space to provide viewers with three different perspectives from which to view the stage, design for the rest of the show is a little fumbling. The backdrop of soft, painted hide perhaps aims to symbolise the play’s countryside setting, or hint at themes of destruction, age, the shedding of skins; yet it is aesthetically unpleasant. When spot lighting hits the back of the stage uneven bubbles and glue marks can be seen in the hide. The unfinished camo paint job – to show things are incomplete, unobtainable perhaps? – also distracts us from the overall effect. The set furniture is squashed to the rear of the space meaning actors must weave their way around and occasionally trip over chairs and table ends, while the gaping space ‘downstage’ seems incongruously large and under utilised.

Chekhov’s original script has been translated by Stuart Young into ‘New Zealand English’ with the result that words like “right?” and “raspberry juice” crop up in the place of “pravda?” and “kvas”. This I find generally unsettling, as the value of Chekhov stands for me not only in the realist structure, humour and motifs of his plays but in the cultural specificity of his Russianness. He is presenting a view into themes and mindsets that are pointedly Russian, and pointedly pre-revolution, in their bleak and unrelenting honesty. These themes may also be presented as universal, but some part of their allure and uniqueness is lost through a modernisation of script. A patriotic desire to see things as ‘kiwi’ doesn’t seem to be enough to justify a movement away from the original script, when, for example, a new New Zealand play utilising Chekhovian themes could do just as well to enhance our understanding of the ideas, without detracting from a masterpiece.

But as Astrov keenly quotes at the end: “finita la commedia”: Uncle Vanya is essentially a very comedic and ironically look at life’s searching questions, and this Circa production certainly brings forth its humour, and lustre, though perhaps not all of its dramatic irony and depth.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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The Vanya plays the fool

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 30th Apr 2007

Caryl Brahms, an admirer of Chekhov’s plays, described Uncle Vanya as the first play in which Chekhov held the sunshine in balance with the cloud. What is so enjoyable about Susan Wilson’s ebullient production of this play, often suffused in melancholia, is that the comedy is played to the hilt just as she did with her 2005 production of The Cherry Orchard.

With the comedy being played to the hilt the elegiac mood of the play is consequently heightened and by the time we reach the final scene we know we have been in the company of a writer who has seen life whole.

But the production also has some interesting reversals from the norm. At the end of the second act Sonya, having made her peace with her step-mother, Yelena, returns with the instruction from her father that they cannot play the piano. Usually this a moment of gloom but in this production the instruction has the two women roaring with laughter as if this were typical of the old professor.

At the centre of this production is Bruce Phillips’s marvelous Vanya as a sort of Holy Fool who cannot stop himself playing childish games which embarrass everyone including himself as he moons about in love with the beautiful, indolent Yelena for whom he is just another man who has fallen for her. One is always aware that if Yelena did respond to him he wouldn’t know what to do.

Bruce Phillips plays on the garden swing like a teenager; he makes startling entrances with a candle on his head or making animal noises with a cushion over his face; he bursts into rages which end in impotent fury. He joins Yelena and Sonya in a private conversation that is funny in its earnestness and desire for acceptance and one laughs but there is always a feeling that one shouldn’t.

Jeffrey Thomas plays Astrov, the local doctor and environmentalist, in a minor key – too minor at times for the hard of hearing – but his performance captures beautifully the idealist who knows he has failed, who swears off drink for ever only to be seen hovering about a bottle as he remembers the man who died under his care in an operation.

Gavin Rutherford in a lovely performance finds the vulnerability and the gaucheness in the role of the impoverished landowner Waffles. His nervous attempt at helping the humiliated Vanya at the height of the farce is a true moment of compassion amongst the hilarity. Peter Vere-Jones as the pampered professor brings a surprising energy to the role, while Danielle Mason as his wife Yelena, who sees herself as a tedious minor character, is anything but as she realizes she is trapped in a life of futility.

The final scene of the play is one of the most moving in all drama and Mel Dodge brings to it a luminous quality and an emotional force that combines heartbreak, poignancy, and uplift as she does throughout as Sonya who is in love with Astrov. A fine performance in a wonderful production.


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Enduring truths of human existence

Review by John Smythe 30th Apr 2007

Ironically subtitled ‘Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts’, Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya could also be called ‘Disaffection and (Self) Loathing in Provincial Russia: a comedy’.

But social satire Chekhov-style has its own special flavour. It is much more subtle than Nikolai Gogol’s then popular The Government Inspector, for instance. Emphasising the comedy aspect may set up the wrong expectations given the soporific indolence and boredom that permeate the first two acts before Vanya takes action to bizarre comic effect in the third.

Uncle Vanya began as The Wood Demon, Chekhov’s second four-act play after Ivanov, both penned through the same period (1887-90) as the five one-act comedies brought him to theatre after balancing short story writing with his career as a doctor. ("Medicine is my legal spouse," he had written, "while literature is my mistress. When I get tired of one, I go and sleep with the other.")

Chekhov wanted his plays to "show life and men as they are, and not as they would look if you put them on stilts." Disaffected with prevailing practice and in turmoil after the success of a messy premiere season of Ivanov (few actors knew their lines; some were drunk), he pushed his ideals further with The Wood Demon and it flopped.

According to one report in The Oxford Chekhov, "actors from a rival theatre, jealous that they hadn’t received Chekhov’s latest play, howled, whistled, and jeered from the boxes. The din of the audience made it impossible to hear the players, but it didn’t make a difference since the actors forgot their lines and the actresses were atrocious. The audience booed, and Chekhov had the play withdrawn immediately from the repertory." Back to medicine …

It was five years before The Seagull surfaced and, rehearsed in nine days flat (as a vehicle for a leading actress), its premiere was also greeted with derision. Only when writer Nemirovich-Denchenko convinced actor-producer Stanislavsky that their fledgling Moscow Art Theatre – also dedicated to a natural and sincere acting style – should include The Seagull in their 1898 season, did Chekhov get the break that assured his place in history.

When The Seagull‘s success at the MAT created demand for another Chekhov play, his revised version of The Wood Demon, renamed Uncle Vanya, was the immediate choice. Chekhov had cut some characters and merged others (e.g. the alcoholic flirt and the conservationist became one in Dr Astrov), replaced Uncle George’s suicide with Uncle Vanya’s attempted shooting of the Professor, and removed sentimental reconciliations in favour of a more realistic return to a bleak status quo.

But the play was already promised to another theatre. Their demand for cuts, however, to the attempted homicide scene – "an insult to intellectuals!" – allowed Chekhov to withdraw the rights and give them to the MAT. Its 1990 opening didn’t reach the heights of The Seagull but – as with The Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1903) – it achieved full recognition through its second season.

I recall all this to remind our theatre managements, and those who fund them, what it takes for new talent, styles and works that challenge the status quo, to finally take root and flourish. It’s also interesting to compare today’s exemplary professional practice with the Russian rabbles of yesteryear.

And so to this new Circa staging of Uncle Vanya directed by Susan Wilson, who also brought The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard to Circa in 2000 and 2005 respectively: all rich and memorable productions.

The action plays out on a working estate owned by the retired Professor Serebryakov but managed by his middle-aged brother-in-law Vanya and daughter (Vanya’s neice), Sonya. The Prof, who cannot abide the country, is visiting with his second wife, Yelena, and her presence is the catalyst for much heightened self-awareness and anguish (always a good component in comedy).

Thrusting into an oblong space from a vast wall covered in shapes and autumnal tones that at first resemble camouflage, and later relate to Dr Astrov’s graphic depictions of how the land has been despoiled by wood-slaughtering demons (another excellent design by John Hodgkins), the staging gives the audience excellent access to the all-important subtext as it glows or sparks between characters.

Sonya is the plain, sane, centre of this emotionally desolate world – hence the play’s naming from her perspective – and Mel Dodge is every bit as eloquent in her silences as when she speaks, deeply feeling and revealing the mood swings of her unrequited love for Astrov.

Bruce Phillips makes compelling sense of Vanya’s much more overt and increasingly bizarre behaviour as he moons over the Prof’s second and much younger wife, Yelyena, as an antidote to his mid-life crisis at feeling life is passing him by. For 25 years, he has ground on at his task, overworked and underpaid by his blissfully unaware employer. Having once had whole-hearted faith in Prof. Serebryakov’s erudition, the disillusioned Vanya now accuses him of knowing nothing about art – "he pours fresh air from one bottle into another!" – despises his mother Mariya for still poring over his writings, hates him all the more for his extraordinary success with woman … In short, the professor’s to blame for everything, hence the attempted assassination.

Peter Vere-Jones meets all the requirements for the stylish hypochondriac Serebryakov, including allowing us to believe that the utterly impractical Yelena was truly attracted by his academic charisma.

Just as he avoids writing the Prof off as a silly old duffer, Danielle Mason avoids over-playing Yelena’s seductive flirtatiousness born of boredom, finding humanity in her need for friendship and making her attractiveness credible despite her appalling indolence. There could be a greater mood change, however, in the scene where she takes Sonya’s cause on as a project (at last, something to do!) until she confronts the realisation that she too is attracted to the doctor.

As Astrov, Jeffrey Thomas chooses to submerge the doctor’s passions, commitment and impatience with these people – and those who so mindlessly cut down trees instead of picking up what’s already fallen – not to mention his unspoken attraction to Yelena, beneath a lugubrious overlay that robs the first half of important contrasts with the general air of despair. This also reduces our understanding of why he is so attractive to Sonya, and Yelena. But once his attraction to Yelena rises into his spoken text, Thomas allows the light into his eyes and lets us see the spirited essence of Astrov, the compulsive achiever.

As the impoverished Landowner Telyegin, known as Waffles on account of his pock-marked complexion, Gavin Rutherford finds a good balance between the pleasure he brings with his contemplative guitar playing and the question of whether he’s a self-indulgent, waffling bludger who needs to get his act together.

Donna Akersten’s bookish Mariya does not suffer her foolish son gladly and Kate Harcourt completes the cast with a warmly rendered old nurse, Marina.

Stuart Young’s translation brings the text trippingly to the tongue and easily to the ear, placing no impediments in the way of our access to the states of mind and emotion of the characters and the circumstances that afflict them. Likewise Gillie Coxill’s costume designs and Phillip Dexter’s lighting design enrich the visual dimension without drawing undue attention to themselves. And the music composed by Michael Nicholas Williams capture the moods of the times beautifully (without recourse to a synthesiser, what’s more).

Many memorable moments arise as enduring truths of human existence are captured in action and interaction: Vanya and Yelena on the swing; Vanya’s antic disposition; Sonya and Yelena reconciling and bonding; the complications that arise from that; the farcical shooting scene; the wakeup call that gives Serebryakov, and his dismay when his solution causes such anger; the final scenes between Astrov and Yelena; Sonya’s attempts to focus on a bright future as Vanya resigns himself to more of the same …

This Uncle Vanya deserves to be seen by lovers of Chekhov, those wanting to know why his plays endure, and anyone interested in tuning into the major turning point in performance conventions that remains at the core of most contemporary live theatre and screen drama productions.


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