An engrossing interpretation of a modern masterpiece
By Anastasia Russell-Head
Chekhov’s works, like Shakespeare’s, serve to unite humanity and human foibles across time and continents.
More than a century after Uncle Vanya was first penned, and on the opposite side of the globe, we’re still dealing with the same stuff – complaining about our lives, falling in love with the wrong people, allowing ourselves to be irritated and manipulated by our relatives, and falling victim to paralyzing inaction.
Director and adaptor Laurence Strangio brings the characters in this play slightly out of history, and makes their plight poignantly relevant to today by, as he writes in the program notes, not feeling “bound by historical accuracy”.
Although ostensibly the characters remain in nineteenth-century Russia, the language and idioms are not forcibly “historical”, but fall naturally onto twenty-first-century ears – drawing the similarities through time rather than highlighting the differences between then and now.
A superb ensemble cast portray the quirky characters with relish, from the hyperbolic gravitas of Peter Finlay’s Professor, to Bruce Woolley’s dry and proudly eccentric Dr Astrov. Although not always the most convincing member of the cast, Sarah Ranken brings a quiet strength and pathos to the character of Sonya, especially in her moving speech at the end of the play. Notable mention must also be made of Richard Bligh and Louise O’Dwyer.
The sumptuous set makes use of the full width of iconic theatre space fortyfivedownstairs, drawing the audience into the action, and feeling almost like we’re inside an isolated night-time country house alongside the characters. All it needed was an open fireplace to complete the illusion! A couple of sight line issues and passages in which characters deliver lines to the back wall are very minor flaws.
Although not by any means a short play (allow three hours, including interval) this production kept my attention throughout, made me laugh, nearly made me cry, and certainly made me think about what it is to be human and to construct a life. In the words of Uncle Vanya, “to start a new life… where to begin?”
MAY 16 – JUNE 3
45 Flinders Lane
Tuesday – Saturday 8pm
Saturday matinee 4pm
Tickets: $38 / $25 / $15 school groups
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 / fortyfivedownstairs.com