UNCLE VANYA To 21 November.

Bristol.

UNCLE VANYA
by Anton Chekhov.

Bristol Old Vic To 21 November 2009.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 21 ~Nov 2.30pm
BSL Signed 14 Nov 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.

TICKETS: 0117 987 7877.
www.bristololdvic.org.uk (£2 transaction fee online).
Review: Rupert Bridgwater 2 November.

Lost lives and a missed opportunity by Andrew Hilton.
Andrew Hilton’s production is like the theme of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya: a missed opportunity. A chance not taken. A life not lived. A predictable, pedestrian production, desperately needing a shot of the vodka that the characters keep swigging.

Bristol Old Vic and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s reverential co-production of this late 19th century story of the idle and not-so-idle gentry in the Russian hinterland is dry and dated, a version that would not have looked out of place three or four decades ago. It’s a huge disappointment, doing nothing with the Old Vic’s space that couldn’t have been achieved in the Tobacco Factory – except perhaps the vast sky backdrop.

Staged under this wide expanse of sky, suggesting Russia’s limitless space, there’s a stripped wood-floor stage, and few items of furniture indicating place and period this could have been mounted in the 1970s with its wardrobe of starched shirts, rustic boots and bustled skirts. And considering the simmering passion and unrequited love, there certainly aren’t enough hormones on show for a modern younger audience weaned on high-octane TV drama.

OK perhaps for traditionalists, but theatre needs to move on. At times it felt like watching a room full of middle-aged actors going through the motions of emotion. Even the famous shooting scene was an anti-climax, and Helena’s snog with the doctor had the passion of a maiden aunt’s peck on the cheek.

There are some notable exceptions, especially amongst the female actors. Daisy Douglas as Sonya plays with a commitment and belief ensuring the moving final scene ends on a highly emotional, sad note. And Avril Elgar (Maria Vasilievna), Alys Thomas (Helena) and Jacqueline Tong (Marina) are perfectly cast, giving the production credibility – something their male counterparts didn’t manage.

Simon Armstrong’s Vanya lacks the wild eccentricity required, and Paul Currier as Dr Astrov is too controlled with his lust for Helena. Strangely. It’s Ian Barrit, as the exasperating Serebryakov, who is the liveliest man – and he is supposed to be a hypochondriac invalid. At least he doesn’t just act from his chest upwards.

With so many resources at the Old Vic, such a fabulous space, and the pick of the acting profession Hilton really needs to deliver. OK, it’s a good to middling show. It’s just not good enough.

Uncle Vanya: Simon Armstrong.
Sonya: Daisy Douglas.
Astrov: Paul Currier.
Helena: Alys Thomas.
Serebryakov: Ian Barritt.
Maria: Avril Elgar.
Telegin: David Plimmer.
Workman: Dan Winter.

Director: Andrew Hilton.
Designer/Costume: Harriet de Winton.
Lighting: Tim Streader.
Sound: Saskia Portway.

2009-11-08 12:18:25

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