Not exactly buy one, get one free. But an imaginative piece of Theatre Royal Bath summer season programming has linked next month’s new version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in the main house to this deliciously funny staging in the Ustinov Studio of Christopher Durang’s Tony-winning parody of the Russian master.
Vanya, Sonia and Masha were all named after Chekhov characters by their theatre-loving parents, with Spike the only outsider although his real name happens to be Vlad.
Masha, played as thoughtlessly narcissistic yet also vulnerable by the splendid Janie Dee, is a famous film star no longer in her prime, who has returned with toy boy Spike to their Pennsylvania farmhouse to rescue her finances by selling it off.
Director Walter Bobbie, a Tony-award winner himself for the Broadway revival of Chicago, marries the broadly comic satire with the inevitable Chekhovian cloak of self-pity. “If everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have nothing to write about,” says Sonia at one point.
Mark Hadfield, as Vanya, and Rebecca Lacey, as Sonia, bring just the right touch of ennui to their roles, in total contrast to Lewis Reeves’ brash insensitivity as Spike.
There are large servings of theatrical in-jokes, but ample madcap activity as well, and a moving moment of longing from Vanya for the simple life of old. The necessary Chekhov touch of innocence comes from Aysha Kala as would-be actress Nina (another Seagull interloper), although Michelle Asante’s soothsaying cleaning lady Cassandra rather breaks the Russian mould. The Chekhov theme is even matched by designer David Korins’ striking wooden-framed farmhouse veranda.