A new version of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya adapted by Alan Ayckbourn from a literal translation by Vera Liber.
Stephen Joseph Theatre In rep to 30 September 2011.
Runs2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 01723 370541.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 August.
Play transplanted in place and time, with its spirit intact.
Playwrights have shifted Anton Chekhov’s actions (or, some might suggest, his inactions) geographically – Ireland’s been one favoured resort. Alan Ayckbourn chooses the Lake District for his adaptation of Uncle Vanya. It’s a suitable place for Dr Ash to carry out his surveys of civilisation’s despoliation of the naturally varied forest landscape. And it’s distant, in English terms, from major urban centres.
Ayckbourn is just the person for Chekhov, who called a couple of his great plays comedies, and hated the heavy-handed if (to audiences at the time) impressive handling of his scripts. Both playwrights have used the four-scene structure. And Vanya comes closest in this respect to Ayckbourn. Chekhov’s third scene ends with a comically failed shooting, just as Ayckbourn often ends penultimate scenes on a farcical high.
They’re often followed by a sombre final scene, like the breakdown of Vera in 1976’s Just Between Ourselves. It’s not far from this to the valedictory sombreness of Vanya’s closing act.
However relocated, in place and time – moved a generation forward to the more recognisable tension between encroaching society and nature of the 1930s – the play reflects both authors’ mix of the comic and serious. There are a lot fewer laughs in many Ayckbourn plays than is sometimes supposed, and the humour arises from character, even within the most farcical moments.
Ayckbourn’s production recognises how truth can arise from silence as much as speech. So when the old family servant doesn’t deny Ash’s self-deprecating remark as he looks to her for a response the silence makes its point. And there’s a new dimension in the insistence on Sonya as a 16-year old. It may suggest more opportunity for her future, but for now the girl trying to hold the family together and in love with Ash is frustrated as he repeatedly asks how she’s getting on at school.
Amy Loughton finds this annoyance within Sonya’s positive nature; Terence Booth shows a contrastingly reductive professorial irritation. Almost all the cast find te indirections in Ayckbourn’s direction, including such Ayckbourn regulars as Eileen Battye, Alexandra Mathie and Richard Derrington, who dignify their surrounding roles.
Marie: Eileen Battye.
Sir Cedric Savage: Terence Booth.
Dr Charles Ash: Phil Cheadle.
Marcus: Matthew Cottle.
Julian Touchweston-Smith: Richard Derrington.
Helena: Frances Grey.
Sonya: Amy Loughton.
Veronica: Alexandra Mathie.
Director: Alan Ayckbourn.
Designer: Jan Bee Brown.
Lighting: Jason Taylor.