Alan Ayckbourn’s version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya transposes the action to 1930s Ennerdale in the Lake District. Ayckbourn’s version lightens Chekhov’s mood a little by converting the older lovelorn spinster Sonya into a gawky 16-year-old, and its references to Cumbrian places went down well in the geographic heart of the Lakes.
It’s a play about romance frustrated, but which leaves half the characters rather cut off from the action. Director Tom Littler smartly reminds us that the fate of an whole household is also at stake by including the whole cast in elaborate scene change routines, and by building an extended, virtually wordless coda as the estate gets back to business at the play’s end. Louie Whitemore’s minimalist set gestures towards the setting with a painted landscape frieze, but the emphasis is on interiors. The buttoned-up nature of many of the characters does mean that rather too much is under wraps for the first half of the play, and it takes some time for their dilemmas and personalities to engage.
The central performances are all strong. Joelle Brabban brings a charming naivety to the besotted schoolgirl Sonya. Dominic Gateley’s unravelling estate guardian – the Uncle of the title – has some fine moments of fury. Chris Porter’s Doctor Ash is an impressively physical presence, and Asha Kingsley’s Helena is a still, but troubled, point in the more obviously emotional currents of the house.