This adaption of Chekov's Uncle Vanya by Laurence Strangio delivers a classic play with an effective timelessness of approach. The tone of the production is simultaneously both naturalistic and formal. The story of a blended family ensconced for over half a year at their country estate contains some startlingly modern themes: more than a century later people still don't know what to do with themselves, whether their idleness is created by too much or too little.
The estate has been maintained by the professor's daughter Sonya (Sarah Rankin) and his former brother-in-law Uncle Vanya (Richard Bligh). The chillingly selfish professor (Peter Finlay) decides to sell, ready to disrupt and scatter the lives of those who work the property. Mostly ignored by her elderly academic husband, the glamorous Helen (Louise O'Dwyer) languishes in a pervasive apathy, which, although clearly named, festers, infectious and destructive. Vanya and the eccentric doctor, Astrov (Bruce Woolley), dance around Helen like tired moths, projecting their desires onto her to the point where she is nearly consumed by them and must flee.
Costuming is ambiguous; the personae are neither of the era of the story nor outside it. At times it seems as though the actors are each in a different play, so palpable is their individual loneliness and isolation. They are linked only by their respective ennui; emptiness and despair fill the physical gaps between them, suffocating genuine warmth or felt connection. Crushed by the spaces of time, privilege, and physical distance, these individuals are miserable and confined in the open countryside, imprisoned within their respective psychologies and positions, despite being able to articulate their frustrations.
The outside world is brought in by the activities of Astrov and the pamphlets and books suscribed to by Mariya but these soon become as meaningless as the interactions between the family members. All of the characters, in particular Vanya and Helen, are victims of her own uselessness. Only the nanny, Marina (played by a scene stealing Brenda Palmer), is allowed any peace, representing as she does the ebb and flow of the seasons, the rhythms of nature so fervently inspiring yet failing the doctor. Despite his passionate attempts at action by the end Uncle Vanya doesn't receive redemption, only a futile peace of mind and resigned self-knowledge.
Set design makes good use of the cavernous theatre of fortyfivedownstairs, highlighting in paradox the claustrophobia created by the action on stage. Strangio's slow moving, drawn out production succinctly brings the class politics and social observations inherent in this work to the fore while apparently remaining involved in the narrative.
Hotwire Productions presents
by Anton Chekhov | adapted by Laurence Strangio
Directed by Laurence Strangio
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 16 May – 3 June, 2012
Times: Tuesday - Saturday 8pm, Saturday matinee 4pm and Sunday 6pm
Tickets: $38.00 – $25.00
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 | fortyfivedownstairs.com