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Uncle Vanya review at Theatr Clwyd, Mold – ‘a finely crafted reworking’

Oliver Dimsdale and Jamie Ballard. Photo: The Other Richard Oliver Dimsdale and Jamie Ballard. Photo: The Other Richard
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Lucy Osborne’s design makes an immediate impact on entering the auditorium for this new production of Uncle Vanya. The boughs of a tree vie with a heavy gilt architrave suspended above the stage, straight away melting the interior and exterior settings into one, while the set dressings leave us in no doubt that this new adaptation remains firmly riveted in period.

With the audience wrapped around all four sides of the space, the claustrophobic nature of the work is instantly apparent. The experience of dissecting the lives of the play’s inhabitants almost takes on the feel of a Victorian anatomy class in this proximity.

In a work that relies heavily for dramatic tension on the stultifying boredom suffered by its characters, there’s a delicate balancing act for the creative team. Director Tamara Harvey is blessed here with a very skilled ensemble who tread this tightrope without stumbling once.

Oliver Dimsdale sets the tone with his distinguished eco-warrior Doctor Astrov and, along with Jamie Ballard’s wonderfully dishevelled, valetudinarian Vanya, mines the text for every ounce of its bleak humour.

Shanaya Rafaat and Rosie Sheehy make another excellent pairing as Elena and Sonia, Rafaat maintaining a delicate aloofness and Sheehy carrying fragile charm right to her final, closing line.

In a production that promised the world premiere of a new version, something is lacking in newness, with Peter Gill’s insistence on retaining the period setting missing the opportunity for a fresh approach to the text. It remains, though, a stylishly realised revival.

Verdict
A finely crafted reworking of Chekhov’s Vanya stubbornly cemented in period
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