24
Dec
10

Uncle Vanya

I’ve been catching up on the the last couple of episodes of Rake and whilst watching Richard Roxburgh, it occurred to me that I really should tell you how wonderful it was to see him on stage as Uncle Vanya, for STC, last week. Interestingly, my mum (and others) didn’t agree; she took issue with (Director) Tamas Ascher‘s whole vaudeville-esque approach and is of the opinion that something (or someone) akin to Roxburgh’s Rake character, Cleaver Greene, would make a more likable fellow in the title role in Chekhov’s classic play. To me, Roxburgh played a Vanya on the verge (some would say broken already) and shared with us the full gamut of human emotion, winning our sympathy early…well, clearly, not my mother’s sympathy! But that’s ok! Because this is Theatre! This is Art! And we are each entitled to our own opinions!

Interesting to read, as I do, some other opinions. Let’s look at them later, shall we? The overall impression I got from this production was that it was reinterpreted and staged to entertain, rather than to educate, a new Chekhov audience. This was, I think, Chekhov’s original intent (the humour is very much embedded in the text) and has been forgotten by various companies (and universities) over the decades, who have given us the impression that the classics should be highly regarded, carefully considered and deeply felt, rather than recognised, appreciated and enjoyed. I was so glad to see (IMHO) STC treat it as a gift to be enjoyed.

My opinion about Cate Blanchett hasn’t changed. I admire and adore her. She is surely one of the most consummate actors of our time (this, when Judi Dench has been named best stage actor of all time). Her beauty is incandescent, her voice is sublime and her collective skills – employed seemingly effortlessly – to portray even the slightest hint of emotion, both on stage and on screen, cannot be contested. As Yelena, Ms Blanchett was beguiling and SO beautifully bored. In fact, I have decided that it is my ambition to be that beguiling AND that beautifully bored one day. Also, I would like, one day, to casually and seemingly effortlessly fall backwards through an open doorway without causing any injury or humiliation to myself or to anybody else whatsoever. Just saying.

It was a treat to see John Bell as the Professor, Jacki Weaver as Nanny and Anthony Phelan as Telegin. In fact, Mr Phelan reminded me of a delightful, gentle friend, with whom I used to work, so tender and amusing was he. It was a disappointment to me that Hayley McElhinney, with her long list of credits, including the honour of being one of the 12 contracted to The Actors Company, completely lost the depths and layers and contours of the final monologue, which I have always loved as it is written and loathed as it is delivered, in that classically-trained, dark and dismal, typically university-interpreted Checkhov voice; empty of the hope that underlies the acceptance of the working poor that life does indeed go on and thus, work must also, quite simply GO ON. There was the hard determination in her voice but none of the subtle, gentle joy and love and light simultaneously, which I have always felt needed by the end of Chekhov, in order to let us leave the theatre looking forward to the next day rather than dreading it. And I wanted her to have loved and lost and retained something. I’m thinking of Pippin’s Grand Finale. Not because I think every show should finish with flash pots and glorious death but with the hope that there are still the simple joys to be found in every day, if only we look for them, even in the face of despair. And after her tumultuous journey, I expected more…contrast.

To put Cate Blanchett on stage with Hugo Weaving was pretty much a stroke of genius. For me, the relationship between them MADE this production. What I want to see in any production is the connection between the characters and for each, a clear journey. The connection between Blanchett and Weaving was pure magic. Each had a journey of epic proportions, made up of the most minute detail. To join them for 4 acts meant a masterclass for actors, for the cost of a coveted ticket.

The tickets were booked a year in advance, as part of an annual sojourn to Sydney “to see Cate”, which, each year, involves my mum, my sister, various friends from editing and publishing as well as a bunch of other friends, who are now known in literary circles at least, as The Family Law.

We did not get (we did not try to get) anywhere near Oprah while we were there but we did spend hours wandering through Annie Leibovitz‘s life, at the MCA, which was inspiring and incredibly moving. In a room holding a series of photographs of her dying father and another series of her dying long-time partner, Susan Sontag, I was moved to tears and unable to look away…

This Vanya failed to stir in me the same emotions. Despite this, I loved it. For me, that is great theatre. For Jason Blake, of The Sydney Morning Herald, same (read his review here). Not so, for some of his readers and these are the comments I find fascinating. Hint: read Blake’s review first…

Then read…

Couldn’t disagree more with this review. The production was a travesty of Chekhov’s work.

The adaptation, with indulgent Shakespeare references to boot, managed to lose all the depth of the Russian original replacing it with a Carry On! version full of slapstick. All the beautiful monologues washed over the audience and many of us left feeling gravely disappointed. Checkov should give you a kick in the guts by the end but all the beautiful monologues washed over to nothing and I left the theatre feeling gravely disappointed.

Bill Peters | Sydney – November 15, 2010, 8:29AM

And…

Some sanity – thanks Bill Peters!

I sadly feel as though many theatre makers are guilty of grossly underestimating the sophistication of their audiences and therefore feel the need to ‘panto’ shows up. You do not have to be a theatre buff (which I am not) to realise when you are being condescended to and when this occurs walking through the liminal door that good theatre (so I am told) should open is next to impossible.

The sycophants in the crowd irked me no end. It is as though they are all playing the part of theatre goers, all in on this bizzare conceit instead of ever truly engaging with the work. My relief upon leaving the theatre earned my sanity five stars!

Chris Hanrahan | Sydney – November 17, 2010, 3:51PM

And…

Embarrassingly, those ‘sycophants’ in the crowd were my fellow students from NIDA.

They were laughing up at every opportunity so people would look at them.

I too was bored with this show. If anyone saw the production from Maly Theatre a couple of years ago you’ll know what I mean. That production had me in tears, digging around in my bag for tissues, a cloth, anything.

I think everyone’s a bit starstruck.

NIDA Grad | Sydney – November 19, 2010, 8:07AM

 

I was determined to get over my starstruckedness because, let’s face it, I’m a forum bunny and you can imagine how excited I was about being there on the NwtA (Night With The Actors). I actually had a question! So I asked it! I asked, after a lot of other fussy queries about the inclusion of Shakespeare and about working with a non-english speaking director, about the company’s general approach to text and to working with each other. It was was important to me to verbalise what we have been getting nearer to defining as XS Entertainment‘s approach to our own creative process. Who better to answer than the Co-Artistic Director of the Company, Cate Blanchett?! She said, “Text is the bedrock. And then, as actors, we each bring to it what we will.” And I am so glad it is as simple as that!

After, of course I was totes inspired to spend a heap of money at the bookstore downstairs while my sister and co posed for pics outside by the poster…

I’m finally posting this on Christmas Eve and I hope Christmas and New Year’s Eve are wonderful for you. Poppy and I have just watched It’s A Wonderful Life and it really is the ultimate reminder of the season.

Next week, keep up with what’s happening out at waterlogged Woodfordia by following XS Entertainment on Twitter!


2 Responses to “Uncle Vanya”


  1. 1 Kate Foy
    December 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I loved this production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya adapted by Andrew Upton. It was, I suspect, closer to the comic life and energy that Chekhov insisted be brought to his ‘comedies’ which, all too often, are directed into lugubrious territory or remembered for ‘beautiful monolgues.’

    PS One day we should chat about the ‘clasically trained, dark and dismal, typically university-interpreted Chekhov voice’ you speak of. I’m very curious since some of the best acting anywhere is done by actors who are clasically trained e.g., Ms Cate and co.

    Have a great break! What a theatre year we’ve had.

  2. December 24, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I suspect you’re right, Kate. And on that beautifully classically trained voice, of which I’ve written in previous posts as well as in this one, don’t get me wrong; I love it! But it can be used for good or evil…Cate Blanchett and Robyn Nevin (and many others), as far as I’m concerned, can do no wrong/evil but I feel so often that the text becomes laden with grave importance before it has a chance to be breathed! It is often delivered so seriously and with such reverence for The Text and The Voice that any actual intent or slight nuance in the language and the context is completely lost (or was never discovered by the actor in the first place. They were too busy designing their vocal score to reassure us that they have indeed been trained)! This applies to the classics generally (the affected Shakespeare voice being another point of amusement/bemusement/frustration for me). In this case, I think I specifically referred to the delivery of the final “beautiful monologue”.

    Also, as basic as it is, it has something to do with the actor being open and honest and being genuinely able to share with us, rather than delivering internally and not allowing us to get near, let alone make a connection with them. I’m sure I will describe another example, perhaps more eloquently next time! You continue to inspire and to challenge me, Kate; thank you! We will always have so much to chat about!

    And what a theatre year we will have again next year!

    Enjoy a real break before then. x


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