Uncle Vanya – March 2012

7/10

By Anton Chekov, translated by Michael Frayn

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Friday 30th March 2012

Pretty impressive for the first preview performance. Overall I would say this is a balanced production, giving us plenty of humour along with an understanding of the characters.

The set was expansive (for the Minerva) and detailed. A wall of windows along the back of the stage had a couple of doors in it. Trees were visible through the windows, and there were several dotted around the stage as well, with one right up against the seats over on the left side. [From the post-show in April, one woman would happily have chopped it down!]  The first scene is set outside, so there was a large table with chairs, the samovar on a table over on the right at the back with a couple of chairs, and not much else.

The set changes took a long time, but the results were effective. The dining room had a carpet, the main table and chairs plus some others, and ceiling lamps were lowered as well. The drawing room was much the same, but had an extra carpet and a chaise longue, while Vanya’s room had a small table for the doctor’s stuff and lots of paperwork was laid out on the main table for Sonya and Vanya to work on. The costumes were all fine, and Yelena had a new outfit for every scene, as befitted her role of trophy wife.

There were a few problems tonight. I couldn’t always make out the doctor’s dialogue, although everyone else seemed pretty clear. I would have cast Sonya and Yelena the other way round, as Dervla Kirwan (Sonya) is much better looking than any other Sonya I’ve seen, and Lara Pulver didn’t radiate the glamour required for a Yelena – this may come with time. Timothy West stumbled a bit over his lines in the third act, a bit more than we can allow for an elderly character, but again this should improve with time.

During the second act, when Sonya interrupted Vanya, Astrov and Telegin singing their rowdy song I was reminded of Twelfth Night, and the similarity was very strong in this performance. Throughout the play I felt the characters were each living in their own universe, with little or no contact between them, and although this is a valid way to present these people, it doesn’t help me to engage with them as much as I’d like to. I found myself wondering if Chekov’s five plays are perhaps done too often, given that there isn’t the same scope to reinterpret them as there is with Shakespeare’s work, and he wrote over thirty plays! I certainly didn’t feel I was discovering anything new from tonight’s offering although it was enjoyable, and it will be interesting to see how the production comes on when we see it again in April.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Definitely The Bahamas – March 2012

6/10

By Martin Crimp

Directed by Martin Crimp

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th March 2012

This was the older of the two plays in this afternoon’s performance, and for us it was the more enjoyable piece. Done originally as a radio play, it worked very well in this staging; the cast set up the space as a radio studio, with tables and chairs at diagonally opposite corners, a sound desk far left from us, microphones suspended above each table and not much else. Obi Abili sat by the sound desk, but didn’t have any lines.

Done as a rambling reminiscence, we gradually learned about these two characters, Milly (Kate Fahy) and Frank (Ian Gelder), their son and daughter ( I forget their names now) and Marijke (Lily James), their au pair. The brightness of their opening chatter took a darker turn, with hints of sexual abuse, but while there were fewer laughs later on, the whole play had a lot of insight into human nature which made it interesting for us.

The humour mainly came through the communication between Milly and Frank, and after all our years of marriage, Steve and I could recognise some of the patterns. They argued over whether an incident had happened in one place or the other, and although the conversation had moved on some time before, when Milly went out for a moment, Frank returned to the point of contention with “It was definitely the Bahamas”, which got a good laugh.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Play House – March 2012

5/10

By Martin Crimp

Directed by Martin Crimp

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th March 2012

This was an odd little play, a two hander about a young couple just starting out in married life. Done in short scenes, there was no definite storyline, just two declarations of love to bookend the piece and lots of odd snippets in between. There was an overall sense of the woman having a troubled past, with family members who had mental and emotional difficulties, while the man seemed more straightforward but did seem to enjoy being trampled on at times. The scenes spilled over into fantasy at times, so we weren’t always sure what had actually happened, but there was enough energy in the performances to keep us interested at least.

With a play like this it is all down to the performances, and the cast today did an excellent job of bringing these two people to life. Lily James as Katrina and Obi Abili as Simon made them believable and engaging, especially when they danced. They began to set up the props for the play themselves, before the start. There were two long benches, on the far left and right hand sides of the space. They each brought on various items and placed them carefully, and I noticed a few adjustments going on. Lily would place something down and Obi would move it slightly, only for Lily to readjust again next time she passed by. I don’t know if this was intentional or not.

The items were used in the various scenes, including a manky fridge which was brought on to be cleaned for an early scene. At the end, the benches and items were thrown around to create a barricade, with Katrina and either a baby or a doll behind it, and Simon attempting to communicate with her from the other side. It wasn’t clear whether she had a doll, or had taken someone else’s baby – from the timeline, it couldn’t be hers as she wasn’t noticeably pregnant a few weeks earlier. Either way, it was a fitting end to this strange play, and although it didn’t do a lot for me, it passed the time well enough.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me