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.
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.
Image by David Parker