Tag Archives: Chris McDonnell

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

 

Head-rot Holiday
★★★★

Hope Theatre

Head-rot Holiday

Head-rot Holiday

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 29th November 2018

★★★★

“a terrifically performed and well written play”

 

At a time when many theatregoers are looking to make their annual Christmas pantomime visit, it is interesting to see a show set over the festive period that addresses the subject of mental health in secure ‘special hospitals’ and examines the people who probably should never have been sent there.

Head-rot Holiday is a challenging, yet entertaining black comedy that gives an insight behind the closed doors of a secure institution. Whilst in the main shocking and heartbreaking, the performance shows that sometimes in tragedy there can also be humour. It was written in the early 1990s by Sarah Daniels to highlight injustices in the way that women were incarcerated in places such as Broadmoor Hospital and subsequently how they were often poorly treated. Her research for the play found that daily life was often monotonous and demeaning, women patients were often subjected to sexualised behaviour with many too intimidated to complain.

Bringing this research to life would mean so much material to cover so we see only a snapshot. Featuring three exceptionally competent female actors telling the story of three nurses, three patients and three further characters who have had a significant impact on their lives as well as they have on them. Set in a fictional version of a Broadmoor style hospital we learn about each character through monologues and set pieces in a fast moving, engaging storyline that shows whether you are patient or carer, just how easily life can sometimes take you the wrong way.

As the audience filters into the theatre we see what we later learn are two patients and a nurse. The characters speak with individual audience members which was initially quite disarming. Should we interact or merely watch? The three actors switch into each of their three character roles with ease and are convincing as they portray three very different people. Emily Tucker was worth the price of the admission alone particularly in the manner she played the damaged Ruth and senior nurse Barbara who is in an abusive home relationship. Amy McAllister performs as Dee, Jackie and Chris whilst the parts of Claudia, Sharon and Angel are played by Evlyne Oyedokun.

Will Maynard’s precise direction means each of the scenes moves smoothly and effectively. The simple grey set (Chanto Silva) makes the audience feel that they are literally in a prison. Lighting (Chris McDonnell) is effective particularly with the monologues. The sound (Keri Chesser) appropriately supported and enhanced the atmosphere.

Head-rot Holiday is a terrifically performed and well written play, though it could be argued that some more could have been learned about the main characters and less about the disco the women were expected to attend. Anyone with an interest in mental health or the terrible injustices that went on for decades in special hospitals should beat a path to the Hope Theatre.

 

Reviewed by Steve Sparrow

Photography by Mark Overall

 


Head-rot Holiday

Hope Theatre until 22nd December

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Cream Tea & Incest | ★★★★ | April 2018
Adam & Eve | ★★★★ | May 2018
Worth a Flutter | ★★ | May 2018
Cockamamy | ★★★★ | June 2018
Fat Jewels | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018
The Lesson | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jericho’s Rose | ★★★½ | October 2018
Gilded Butterflies | ★★ | November 2018

 

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