The light is barely there at the opening of Sam Holcroft's twenty-first century adaptation of Anton Chekhov's slow-burning tip-toe through the seemingly wasted lives of several generations of country folk. As bookish Sonya's diligence at the accounts is disturbed by her uncle Vanya's barely contained frustration at the sheer mundanity of what his life has become, things are exacerbated even more as his city slicker brother in law and Sonya's father is doted on by his glamorous new wife Yelena, who Vanya is besotted with.
Only dashing doctor Astrov seems to have any kind of vision for the future, even as he's worshipped by Sonya. Up until he meets Yelena, Astrov's notions of biology are all in the abstract, as he talks at length of insects, pheromones and living wild and free in tribes. Everything else, it seems, is just the end of the line for a bunch of part-time would-be suicides.
Stripped to the bones of just these four characters, there is a raw emotional and erotic pulse to Holcroft's text. This is laid bare even more in Gareth Nicholls' unremittingly intimate production, the final show of the Citz's Circle Studio-based Up Close season which has gone some way to recapturing the libertine spirit of the old Close Theatre.
Like the venue, the play is all corners and extremities. Keith Fleming's pop-eyed Vanya, Helen Mackay's increasingly angry Sonya, Scarlett Mack's vivacious Yelena and Mark Wood's forensic Astrov negotiate their way through ninety minutes of increasingly intense duologues broken up by self-revelatory soliloquies. The end result is a self-lacerating circle of unrequited passion in an endless fog of ennui where sex and death are everything and nothing.
The Herald, November 5th 2015