In the grand welcoming arms of Charlton Park, a country house balanced on the gap between the villages, woods and the city, the tweeds and cravats of East Kent eased into a performance of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by Theatrical Niche. The dark and cold of a late October night was replaced by a warm, engaging and consistently brilliant reading of a modern classic that incorporated smart lighting, subtle sound design and a uniformly strong cast.
The male characters were as helpless as they were bristling and half-cut, pathetic and physically imposing in equal measures. Yet, amongst their shadow-boxing and grandstanding, there were two emphatic performances from the female leads. Sonia, the moral centre of the ensemble, was both brittle and wearing weary sadness like a badge. She (literally) picks up a drunk and despondent Vanya in one of the physical interludes of the play, dusting him down with familial intimacy. All this makes her tiny bursts of joy more potent, especially in the wonderful dance at the end of the second scene.
Foxey Hardman played her beautifully and was matched by Venetia Twigg as the story’s catalyst, Elena, who sweeps the play off its feet, perching at points as the queen bee and at others as the awkward outsider. The rest of the cast combined to sell each scene to the audience, adding depth and empathy to every character.
Themes of conservation that have only been amplified in society since the play’s creation were smartly developed into the aforementioned well-integrated motif: bees. This motif was embedded in every element of the night; the throb and drone of the off-stage bees became an almost constant accompaniment to the actor’s physical and verbal spins that felt their way through mortality, morality, duty, and unrequited love’s unstable dancefloors.
The play is about the universal themes of life, death and a community deteriorating, yes, but it is also preoccupied with love. Every character explicitly and compellingly dealt with their unspoken feelings for another in front of the audience. This production was uplifting in its compassion and its humanity; coupled with a concoction of flutter-hearted highs and grief-stricken lows, romance, and tears.
Produced in partnership with Arts Council England & the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. More info at www.theatricalniche.co.uk
Performed as part of Canterbury Festival, Kent’s International Arts Festival, on 25th October 2019.
About the Author
Adam Littlefield is a local enthusiast who does a bit of poetry and a bit of music and a lot of sitting around eating crisps.