Uncle Vanya – November 2009


By Anton Chekov, translated by Stephen Mulrine

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: SATTF & Bristol Old Vic

Venue: Bristol Old Vic

Date: Friday 13th November 2009

I was a bit disappointed with this production. I liked the thrust stage, and the minimalist set design was fine as were the costumes, but I just couldn’t relate to the characters and their plight. It seemed to fall between two stools, the comic approach and the serious one and never quite got off the ground as a result. I will also say that the seats we were in, although they gave us a good view, were dreadfully cramped – I hope the refurbishment makes it a more comfortable place to sit. But it is a lovely little theatre, and I wish them every success in giving it the TLC it so clearly needs.

The post-show was an added bonus; they don’t usually announce these until long after we’ve bought our tickets, so it was a lovely surprise to find we’d booked exactly the right performance. The cast and director were there, of course, and the audience were suitably enthusiastic, with a good mix of ages. There was one chap on stage who’s involved in the revamp, and he told us some interesting things about the process, and either he or Andrew Hilton explained that thrust stages had disappeared because of health and safety concerns. Back in the days of wooden buildings a theatre had caught fire and killed lots of people so they brought in a law that introduced the safety curtain to every theatre. All naked flames had to be behind the curtain so that if there was a fire the audience could get out OK (shame about the actors, but that’s life). Since the only available lighting was limelight it meant the footlights at the front of the stage had to be moved back, which meant that actors who came in front of the proscenium arch could no longer be seen clearly and the front part of the stage was therefore redundant and disappeared. Now that we have the magic of electrical lights we can have the actors doing all sorts, swinging from the roof, leaping across the seats, strutting their stuff down aisles and round the back; you name it, an actor has probably performed from that very place. Fascinating stuff.

So a good night out in that we ‘discovered’ a lovely new theatre, learned some interesting things in the post-show, and semi-enjoyed the performance itself.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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