Tag Archives: Anton Chekhov

Uncle Vanya
★★★★

Hope Theatre

Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 25th April 2019

★★★★

 

“driven by a kind of energy and commitment that make it hard not to become invested”

 

I have to start this review with a confession. Despite loving theatre, and consistently pretending that I know lots about it, I have never consumed the work of one of its greatest writers. That’s right, I’ve never seen a single minute, nor read a single word, of Chekhov. And so, for me, the Hope Theatre’s production of Uncle Vanya was actually quite significant. Would it interest me? Would I understand it? More importantly – would I like it?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Adapted by Brendan Murray, Chekhov’s four expansive acts are stripped down into four tightly directed scenes bursting with emotion. The play begins in the aftermath of the disruption caused by Serebryakov, a former professor who has returned to the family estate along with his young wife Yelena. The estate is thanklessly managed by his brother-in-law Vanya and daughter Sonya, but now Serebryakov has new and worrying plans for it. Meanwhile, Vanya and country doctor Astrov have fallen in love with Yelena, Sonya is hopelessly in love with Astrov, and Vanya’s mother is ignoring them all in the pursuit of women’s rights. They are a family full of hope as well as hopelessness, both longing for something more and relishing the order of conventional life.

Despite the small size of the space, the world of 19th century Russia comes to life brilliantly, as does the emotional core of the play. The portraits on the wall, bureau in the corner, and samovar perpetually present on the dining table give a distinct impression of the era without being too distracting. The only downside of the stage design is that actors often have to squeeze past tables and chairs (and each other) in order to enter and exit. Nevertheless, the use of the space is effective.

There is excellent acting, particularly from Esme Mahoney (Yelena) and Cassandra Hodges (Sonya). Both have gravitas, a strong stage presence, and a firm grasp of their characters’ complexities. Hodges is particularly impressive in the final scene, delivering the closing lines in a bold and moving manner. Rory McCallum’s Serebryakov is both wearying and invigorating; Adrian Wheeler’s Vanya is dry-humoured and world-weary. All capture the inner conflicts of their character in a believable manner, making them sympathetic if not always likeable.

There are places where I wish things had come to life more vigorously. I wish that certain scenes weren’t so rushed, or that more was made of Chekhov’s frequent injections of humour. But these are minor points. On the whole it is very enjoyable – not perfect, but driven by a kind of energy and commitment that make it hard not to become invested.

So if you, like me, desperately need to improve your street cred by finally seeing some Chekhov, this is the show for you. Accessible, well-acted, and engaging: an ideal introduction to the work of a great and complex writer.

 

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Cameron Harle

 


Uncle Vanya

Hope Theatre until 11th May

 

Last ten reviewed at this venue:
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018
The Lesson | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jericho’s Rose | ★★★½ | October 2018
Gilded Butterflies | ★★ | November 2018
Head-rot Holiday | ★★★★ | November 2018
Alternativity | ★★★★ | December 2018
In Conversation With Graham Norton | ★★★ | January 2019
The Ruffian On The Stair | ★★★★ | January 2019
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story | ★★★★★ | April 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

The Seagull – 3 Stars

The Seagull

The Seagull

The Tower Theatre

Reviewed – 8th November 2018

★★★

“The company succeeds in conveying the narrative with a clear voice and creating emphatic and well-fitting roles”

 

Previously a place of worship, subsequently a female only gym, the broad octagonal expanse of Tower Theatre’s new home in Stoke Newington has plenty of potential for a set designer, especially one tasked with creating the numbing sense of distance demanded by The Seagull. For this production of Chekhov’s bleak comedy of imperfect relationships and mediocre talents stranded in the middle of nowhere, Rob Hebblethwaite creates a wide, painted landscape across the back of the hall, to set up an opening scene in which Konstantin (Dominic Chambers) stages a play outdoors with the sweet, young Nina (Rachael Harrison) hoping for the approval of his self-centred mother and her entourage.

After a strong opening, aided by Michael Frayn’s accessible translation and more particularly by Chamber’s excellently natural and rounded performance, this production starts to wane a little, but the amateur nature of the company is not without strengths. Chekhov’s characters are often better inhabited rather than performed and Tower Theatre’s long experience and large pool of members allows for some precise portrayals. As Sharayev, Richard Pederson is enjoyably boorish; Sorin is all too aware of his life’s inconsequentiality while perversely proud of his modest achievements, and Jonathan Norris manages this piteous balance effortlessly well. Even the tiny part of Yakov is entirely occupied by Alistair Maydon, stomping around like a man unaware of being on a stage. The more expressive central roles of Arkadina (Lucy Moss) and the successful writer Trigoran (David Hankinson) are harder ones in which to create the eerie naturalism that Chekhov’s dialogue allows. Both characters feel forced to start with, but they eventually settle down to deliver some compelling scenes; Moss and Chambers work together beautifully as the mother tends the son’s wounds and the way Hankinson as Trigoran succumbs knowingly to his own vanity and into Arkadina’s clutches, is engrossing.

Though this is Julia Collier’s directing debut at the company, her experience in pantomime brings unlikely benefits. There is no sense of holding back on costumes (Lynda Twidale) or movement (Lindsay Royan) and the clarity of characters and storyline is refreshing. Her approach does the audience the favour of making the dialogue and therefore the relationships (or lack of them) easy to follow. The show could improve; the play’s delicately told but heart-rending story of Medvedenko and Masha, for example, seems to be missing in plain sight, but if the combination of am-dram and Chekhov gives you the chills, this production could give you a fresh perspective of both. The company succeeds in conveying the narrative with a clear voice and creating emphatic and well-fitting roles.

 

Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by Ruth Anthony

 

The Tower Theatre

The Seagull

The Tower Theatre until 17th November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
To Kill a Mockingbird | ★★★½ | October 2018

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com