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I was immediately struck by the naturalness of both the writing and acting in this new production of Uncle Vanya, and for this I must congratulate the inspired director, Helena Kaut-Howson. She bravely took on the task of translating the famous script, offering a fresh and exciting new perspective that stays true to the spirit of the original.
Women seem to both fascinate and confuse Chekhov who often portrays them as crazed creatures, screaming and dancing madly round the room. This is true of both The Seagull and Uncle Vanya which both feature captivating young leading ladies. Marianne Oldham looks striking in a full length white gown as the temptress Yelena Andreyevna. Oldham successfully grasps the enigmatic persona of this much desired woman, though I noticed twinges of nervousness that occasionally broke the beguiling illusion.
The action is centred around a dysfunctional family, each character has their own pessimistic reasons for wanting to escape the boredom and monotony of the estate property. Uncle Vanya is the most frustrated, and finds relief in adoring and fantasising about Yelena. Jon Strickland is brilliant as Vanya, he creates a multi dimensional character and I was absorbed by his rendition.
There is a good ensemble balance throughout – one of the most intriguing scenes comes from the three drunken men, who are hilariously convincing as they stumble about giggling and joking. Simon Gregor gives a deeply thoughtful, nuanced performance as the handsome Doctor Mikhail Astrov and Paul Bigley is a hysterical asset to the cast as the kind Ilya Telegin.
Designer Sophie Jump must have had a fun job decorating the stage for this play; the space already has such a wonderful atmosphere it lends itself to dramatic work. Nonetheless Jump found some modest antiques to imbue the scene with Russian charm.
As ever, the Arcola delights with its instinctive and creative production.
Uncle Vanya is at the Arcola Theatre until 4 June 2011. Book tickets here