Old Red Lion Theatre – until 7 December 2019
Reviewed by Heather Chalkley
The Company’s Partnership with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust adds a unique dimension to this intense play, about trust and survival. Chekhov expressed his own thoughts about conservation through the character of Doctor Astroff (David Tudor). The cast cleverly reflects the complex social structure of the beehive, through the player’s relationships.
The entrance of the queen bee, Yelena (Ventia Twigg) is impactful and Twigg maintains her superior status throughout. The drones that succumb to her beauty, leaving them powerless to be productive, in their attempts to be near her, are Uncle Ivan Vanya (Matthew Houlihan) and Dr Mikhail Astroff (David Tudor). Tudor (Astroff) delivers a convincing intelligent suitor, desperately battling with his hate of rural life and lust for Yelena (Twigg). Houlihan (Uncle Vanya) manages to encapsulate the plight of the humble, the poor and the over worked, in a passionate, often tormented performance. Professor Alexandr (Jeremy Drakes), husband of Yelena, is the catalyst for Vanya’s (Houlihan) outbursts, oblivious to the privilege he has and pain he is inflicting. Foxey Hardman (Sonia) has a deliberate and measured delivery that captures the audience’s interest and support. The honesty of her character is often funny and refreshing at the same time.
The Creative’s give us clear signposts to the status of each character through their costumes. The set is well stripped back – maybe a little too far, leaving everything to your own imagination. However, the choreographed physical scenes speak a thousand words and are a key part of the performance.
Chekov would be pleased with the parallels with the natural world made by Venetia Twigg. A clever adaptation that sticks to the original story.