That’s not to say the 1898 classic doesn’t have some laughs. But the underlying question of “what have I done with my life?” is most evident.
This is especially true of the APC production, playing at Melbourne’s Theatre Works. The play is based on a new 2018 translation from American playwright/director Richard Nelson together with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Set in 1897, Uncle Vanya tells of the drama unfolding at an estate in the Russian countryside. The property had been managed uneventfully by Vanya (Dion Mills), a middle-aged man wallowing in regret, and his unmarried niece, Sonya (Alex Marshall) for a number of years.
The return of Sonya’s retired professor father, Serebryakov (Sebastian Gunner) and his beautiful and much younger second wife, Elena (Pia O’Meadhra) changes all that as a result of interpersonal relationships.
Vanya is in love with Elena while Elena no longer loves Serebryakov, who suffers from numerous medical conditions including gout. Sonya is in love with Astrov (Catherine Morvell) the local doctor with a passion for forest preservation and vodka. Astrov is in love with Elena. Matters come to a head in the dysfunctional family when Serebryakov proposes that the estate be sold. Anger, resentment and regret all come to the fore.
While the story is unchanged in this production there is one major change – Dr Astrov is a woman.
Explains the play’s director Bronwen Coleman: “One of our members, Catherine Morvell, put her hand up for Dr. Astrov – a traditionally male role. This was super interesting to me as a declared feminist theatre maker. What would it mean to have a woman in the role? I combed through the text, and thought yes, we could definitely do this. Our central love triangle, because of our casting choice, is now queer. The actors’ work was beautiful, and I remember thinking – this is what we can do, as a company, offer this narrative.”
According to Coleman her other objectives include ensuring the play is entertaining and thought provoking.
“The play is on the VCAA/VCE Literature List this year and part of my project is to help a younger generation, or anyone that’s unfamiliar with or intimidated by Chekhov, to see this play the way I do; as sexy, funny, tragic and epic,” she explains, adding: “I hope that with this play, we ask the audience, ‘What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life’?”
Thanks to her work and that of the hard-working and talented cast she succeeds.
Uncle Vanya is playing at Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street St Kilda until June 17. Visit the Theatre Works website for more information and tickets.
*Photo credit: Mikhaela Ebony
Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Uncle Vanya as a guest of the production company.
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