PAUL FOLEY sees an excellent production of Chekhov’s leisurely chronicle of domestic disintegration
NO-ONE quite does boredom like Anton Chekhov.
Over the course of a couple of hours in Uncle Vanya, nothing very significant appears to happen yet, by its end, each character has undergone a complete metamorphosis. A master of the tragi-comic spirit, the Russian playwright subtly depicts the ease with which a seemingly stable household can fall apart from inconsequential events.
Director Walter Meierjohann understands his Chekhov and skilfully steers the characters through the paralysing morass of rural Russia on the cusp of change at the turn of the last century and his clear vision, coupled with a wonderful ensemble cast, results in an excellent production.
Jason Merrells perfectly captures the frustrations of country doctor Astrov, who controls his tedious life from the bottom of a vodka glass, while David Fleeshman is a wonderfully crabby Professor Serebrayakov, whose month-long sojourn at the old house is the catalyst for the disaster which unfolds. And his trophy wife Yelena, played with great panache by Hara Yannas, is transformed from bored disinterest to the sickening realisation that she is trapped in a loveless marriage.
But it is the performances of Vanya and Sonya that make this a truly remarkable production. Nick Holder practically falls apart before our eyes as the gnawing passion for Yelena eats away at his confidence and self-esteem and, by the end, he is truly a broken man.
Katie West steals the show with an outstanding performance as the vulnerable Sonya, capturing the very essence of a young girl in turmoil as she moves from annoying child to a young woman discovering the stomach-churning emotion of a first love.
Finally, she settles for the sensible, stoical maturity needed to hold the collapsing household together and there’s a heartbreaking moment where she speaks directly to the audience, as if to a close friend, confessing her love for Astrov. When she asks if she is being “silly,” the temptation is to scream out: “Forget that drunken bastard, you’re too good for him!”
Chekov may not be your thing but this beautiful production could change your mind.