We’re in the mist of a Chekhov festival. After taking in the Australian Theatre for Young People and Cry Havoc co-production of Three Sisters last month and then graduating to the Sydney Theatre Company’s opening night performance of Uncle Vanya on Saturday, we’re beginning to consider ourselves quite the inexperienced experts. Not a bad playwright to patronage, we say.
STC’s Co-Artistic Director, Andrew Upton has adapted Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for the STC main stage this season, playing to the strengths of the blue-ribbon Australian cast.
Cate Blanchett is captivating as the hollow, perennially listless Elena Andreyevna Serebryakov, a stunning beauty who passively demands the attention of all surrounding her. Richard Roxburgh’s depiction of the title character, Ivan Petrovitch Voynitsky “Uncle Vanya” moves from hopelessly depressed single man, lamenting the loss of his life, to family jester with style and seamless ease.
It is undoubtedly Weaving to the power of Weaver producing the sum total of stage brilliance here. Hugo Weaving’s convincing depiction of Mikhail Lvovich Astrov, the environmentally idealistic alcoholic doctor – who eventually manages to capture the attention of the married Elena, albeit only briefly and not enough to steal her away from her husband, Aleksandr Vladimirovich Serebryakov (John Bell) – is physical, heart-felt and, well, bloody hilarious. At the other end of the character spectrum, Jackie Weaver’s portrayal of the chamomile-tea obsessed, plain-Jane, older Marina “Nanny” is something of an on-stage spectacular.
There is something so humorously benign about the way Checkov’s plays delve into extended explorations of the everyday, creating mountainous moments within the boundaries of a simple family home. Uncle Vanya is no exception. Thankfully it’s a humour this STC production remained true to – along with the prominent Chekhov themes of human hopelessness, selfishness and environmental destruction at the hands of man.