Theatre in Wales

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At RWCMD

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama- Uncle Vanya , Caird Studio, RWCMD , February 11, 2005
In late 19th century Russia members of middle class society owned Ďestatesí in the way that here today their equivalents own houses in fading suburbs valued at around half a million pounds. Like the Russians some of the people living in those properties have substantial assets but not quite the income to match. Whilst not to have to struggle with difficult financial circumstances and to be happily in love will clearly not make exciting drama, the lack of these fulfilling assets lies at the heart of many frustrating and serious human problems.

Vanya, like all the characters in this very great and world-renowned play remains as unsatisfied at the end as at the beginning, his anger bursts into an attempt to shoot his dead sisterís husband: but even in that he fails. In this, Michael Fraynís, translation the dialogue is fresh and immediate, yet is still able to fill the room with the beautiful and poetic Slavic melancholy that lies at the core of all Chekovís work.

The Caird Studio is a very small and really intimate theatre space that brings the action and the dialogue so close that you can touch the actors and watch the breath sigh from them. Initially there was a note of self-consciousness in the voices but they soon settled into the difficult environment and, as an audience we had a wonderful sense of eaves-dropping on the intimate lives of these sad, yet very recognisable set of people.

I was sitting just behind Astrovís ear as the weary doctor painted a resigned picture of his work driven life, that he felt served so little purpose and of his obsession with his own estate and the renewal of it, that would always remain an unfulfilled dream. As would his passionate and very real love for Yelana the wife of the ill and ageing Serebrykov.

Yelena, despite her attraction to Astrov lived with her almost irrational decision to remain faithful to her husband, a virtue that brought her little happiness and no real fulfilment. Her intervention, on behalf of her stepdaughter Sonia, who was so desperately in love with Astrov was also doomed to failure.

Director Jamie Garven had gently guided his young cast to give us a very clearly drawn sketch of this play beautifully and intelligently spoken in a way that possibly gave us a better opportunity to savour the literary excellence of the writing than watching a more conventional production.

This demonstration of one way of developing the emerging talents of potential professional actors was in itself a satisfying experience; very much due to the extraordinary talents possessed by every member of the cast. There was no attempt to make up for the fact that most of the actors were much younger than the characters they were playing. Nevertheless, with just a hint of characterisation they each demonstrated a great deal of commitment and understanding to the roles they were undertaking.

Mark Sullivanís Irish broguedís Vanya was a sturdy performance that paralleled many recent angst driven dramatic heroes. Leighton Kyle brought a touch of warmth to Astrov along with his resigned urbanity. Kama Roberts moved through the play with a stylish brooding elegance and controlled passion. Craig Gazey handled Serebrykov with an appropriate disgruntled authority. Emily Bowker sat enigmatically and expressed her matriarchic disdain very well with the few words at her disposal. Zahra Ahmadiís old nurse convinced us that she would take great care of all of them, if only they let her and Daniel McLennan played a dreamy guitar. But I make no apology for singling out the performance of Katisha Roberts, her expressions of joy and sorrow, her compelling realisation of the character of Sonia revealed an exceptional depth of talent that should see her crashing into Ďstardomí as soon as she leaves the college.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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