Tag: Annie Baker

Red Stitch Presents UNCLE VANYA

Chekhov adaptation is both smart and stylish

By Leeor Adar

Nadia Tass continues her accomplished direction here in Annie Baker’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. It is one of the best things I’ve seen this year, and Red Stitch delivers some of the best Australian theatre once again. Having witnessed a number of Chekhov productions recently, it is a delight to see such an accomplished and stylish cast bring to life one of Chekhov’s more titillating works. Uncle Vanya brings the longings for life, for land and for love in a way that embraces the depths of the emotional life rarely written so well. The melancholy acceptance of our lot rings true, we almost feel like tearing down the walls of the little world on stage and freeing the characters from their own reverie and turmoil.

 Uncle Vanya - Rosie Lockhart & Ben Prendergast c. David_Parker.jpg

Baker’s contemporary adaptation of Uncle Vanya captures the larger-than-life torment of the characters in a way we recognise as an audience. From the plight of the forests to the plight of the loss of youth and vigour to sedentary living, Chekhov’s world continues to make sense to contemporary audiences. While admittedly his world tends to drag (why any work should go beyond two hours is increasingly beyond me), the Chekhovian drag perfectly symbolises the endless days that follow in the pursuit of living – so aptly considered by the character of Sonya.

Long-time resident of Red Stitch, David Whiteley portrays the title role of Uncle Vanya with humour, bitterness and vitality. It’s hard playing a lovelorn, broken man, but Whiteley does it with panache. Whiteley is accompanied brilliantly by Ben Prendergast’s Astrov, the country doctor-cum-man of the earth. Both fall prey to the bored wanderlust of the leisurely Yelena, portrayed with so much grace, guile and allure by Rosie Lockhart. Lockhart’s mystery is balanced well with Sonya’s earthy kindness, played by Eva Seymour with astonishing conviction. The supporting cast bring their own, with a special mention to Justin Hosking’s tragi-comic Telegin, who’s timing and awkwardness are utterly endearing. Marta Kaczmarek’s ‘nanny’ Marina’s watchful, wise gaze pervades the production with the kind of certainty that only comes with a life lived and observed. Together this ensemble cast seamlessly delivers this universal family drama with an intimacy and tenderness that does justice to the writer’s work. My only displeasure is with the Russian accents deployed with too great a variety by the actors to genuinely contribute to the overall work.

Sophie Woodward’s set and costume design captures the country home feel astutely. The little window gazing towards the countryside that only the characters can see out of perfectly encapsulates the unending longing. The lounge sofa converts so well from the bed of the exhaustingly self-important Professor, Serebryakov (Kristof Kaczmarek), to the melancholy place where Voynitsky drowns his sorrows. The set is utilised very well, and the carefully thought-out production is aided by Woodward’s style.

There is great humour and poetry to Tass’ Uncle Vanya, and the excellent direction kites its audience along, observing all the moments that rupture, and all those softer moments in between. Chekhov fans will endure, and they will enjoy. For those who are unfamiliar with the work, this production would be a great place to start.

Uncle Vanya continues to be performed at Red Stitch until December 17.

http://redstitch.net/bookings/

Image by David Parker

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Review: CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION

Poignant and personal theatre at its best

By Kate Boston Smith

MTC’s production of Circle Mirror Transformation is sleek, perfectly timed and beautiful.  American writer Annie Baker has crafted a poignant play about four unlikely characters signed up for a six-week acting course.  Director Aidan Fennessy has stripped back any of the hyperbole of theatre and left us with real characters and situations that we can relate to and truly care about.

© Photo by Paul Dunn

Set in the dream-catcher that is a community college, short, sharp scenes are played out over the duration of the acting course.  The classes are run by the free-spirited, enthusiastic Marty played by Deidre Ruberstein who guides her four students, shy sixteen-year old Lauren (Brigid Gallacher), recently divorced Schultz (Ben Grant), femme fatale Theresa (Kate Cole) and James (Roger Oakley) her dutiful husband.

The group runs through a range of abstract acting exercises that help them focus in and open up to the task at hand.  Absolutely absurd to watch, the audience, (who have likely participated in these kind of games at acting school or corporate team-building days) delighted in seeing these activities played out on stage. Baker combines numerous moments of stillness with snappy dialogue that unravels the story with exact precision.  We watch as these five characters open and connect like flowers on a vine. 

© Photo by Paul Dunn

Casting is divine, with direction that was perfectly timed.  Staging and props were kept to a minimum, which was ideal for this situation as smaller moments were not lost in the wash of production.   There were several times where a mere eyebrow raised by Theresa or slight head drop from Schultz could bring the audience to tears.  It was the combination of these minute physical details and extremely considered conversations between characters that wove a rich and seamless show

Particularly heart-warming are the different points through the piece when one character introduces themself as another, describing who they are, what they do and why they are enrolled in the class.  At these instances we see not only how a character has viewed a fellow classmate, but also the empathy they share with them.   Watching, we are reminded of when we have put ourselves into vulnerable situations and how a little encouragement has meant the world or an unlikely friend  – or a moving theatre experience – can warmly affect our lives.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Circle Mirror Transformation
by Annie Baker

Director Aidan Fennessy

Venue: The MTC Theatre, Lawler Studio | 140 Southbank Blvd Southbank, VIC
Dates: August 17 – September 17, 2011
Tickets: from $35 (Under 30s $25)
Bookings: MTC Theatre Box Office (03)8688 0800 | mtc.com.au