His plays are packed with unrequited love, wasted youth, bitterness and suicidal characters, which explains why he unfairly has a reputation for writing depressing plays.
But what is not often discovered is the supreme comic potential buried beneath the sadness.
Sydney Theatre Company’s new production of Uncle Vanya is a triumph.
It respects the poignancy of Chekhov’s gloriously spare writing and simultaneously revels in the sometimes farcical, often brutal humour.
Under the thoughtful and thoroughly clever direction of Hungarian Tamas Ascher and against the backdrop of faded glory of a set designed by Zsolt Khell, the top-shelf cast throw everything at this bitter-sweet drama, which is snappily adapted by Andrew Upton.
Vanya (Richard Roxburgh, pictured) is a fortysomething bloke who once showed potential but has wasted his life running a farm belonging to his beloved late sister and her academic husband Astrov (John Bell), with the help of his shy niece Sonya (Hayley McElhinney), who is in love with the dashing local doctor (Hugo Weaving).
When Astrov moves from the city to the farm with his much younger wife Yelena (Cate Blanchett), the country home is thrown into disorder.
Each of the performances are excellent, including an unrecognisable Jacki Weaver as Old Nanny. Together they form a strong ensemble.
Particularly captivating is Roxburgh in the title role. His tender, detailed performance ekes out the very essence of Vanya in a delicate portrayal that inspires tears and laughter.