Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov, The Rose, Kingston, 28-Jan-2008, Directed by Peter Hall

Inevitably I’m going to spend most of my time here writing about the theatre. After all it’s new and it was my first time there so I’m probably allowed an opinion. I have to confess that it felt a bit like a rather upscale school assembly hall. There was a suggestion of echoes and feeling of being distant from the stage. I was in the stalls under the cover of the circle so there was also an uncomfortable sensation from being in a low ceilinged area when compared to the height of the rest of the theatre. Perhaps I should have learned from my experiences at Shakespeare’s Globe where if you have to sit it’s best to do so in the middle gallery rather than the ground floor where you see the action through the groundlings. Of course here the groundlings sat quietly and politely but I could still feel how far away the action was. Also unlike at the Globe, the seating curved round in slightly more than a semicircle (almost a three-quarter circle) but the stage wasn’t thrust into the middle (or wasn’t in this case anyway), it was a shallow, very wide, low flat platform at the back of the hall.
There was one striking similarity with the Globe: There are long passages where characters talk to themselves, in a normal theatre these are addressed to the darkness but here (as with the Globe) the speeches stood out as if they were being directed at a real audience (which they were, of course). I remember being rather struck by this, imagining momentarily that this was some invention of the translator (Stephen Mulrine). It may have been my fifth or sixth Uncle Vanya but it felt like it was the first time I was seeing these soliloquies.
Any hope of such high-minded appreciation was slightly spoiled by a near neighbour who developed a fit of the giggles towards the end of the second act. The play was directed in such a way to allow people to laugh occasionally (didn’t Chekhov always called his plays comedies) but this woman went too far. Any miss-mouthed line, slipped prop or potential double meaning in the script was treated with loud laughter which removed any hope of concentration. My near neighbour calmed down after the interval which is when I noticed that a couple of the actors seemed to have developed an attack of ‘the hands’. Every emphasis suddenly seemed to be accompanied by manual flourishes which, in reality, were probably just noticeable rather than silly butit didn’t stop me smiling a bit.
As I felt a bit too distanced I didn’t feel as connected and/or electrified, as I sometimes have, by the play. I liked everyone’s performances and I seem to have seen Michelle Dockery in a few things before (Dying for It at the Almeida and the UN Inspector at the National to name two) without noticing her which was probably a grave error. I didn’t think Neil Pearson was sexy enough (of course I am probably the wrong sex or sexual persuasion) but I did find his character’s slightly nerdy interest in trees and wildlife much more believable – these things are probably connected

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