Red Stitch Theatre are excited to be presenting the Australian premiere of Anton Chekhov’s classic play, Uncle Vanya, to a local audience. Chekhov is considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time and his career as a playwright produced four classics.
Red Stitch ensemble member and former Artistic Director, David Whiteley stars in the lead role of Vanya in this new translation by contemporary New York playwright, Annie Baker.
In fact, it was Whiteley’s admiration for Baker that first drew him to the piece but his love of the Russian playwright was an inspiration as well.
“I’ve always loved Chekhov’s characters, his sense of humour and quiet tragedy. Vanya is one of those great roles you don’t get many chances to play in your life,” says Whiteley. “This, and the production team, with Nadia Tass directing, made it a question of “how do I do this play” rather than “if” despite a busy work schedule and home life with young children.”
Most of Chekhov’s signature works explore themes of frustrated hopes and dreams as well as unhappiness and thwarted ambition. His depiction of characters in pursuit of the everyday, or the minutia of life, is synonymous with the playwright.
Uncle Vanya is no different. Explains Whiteley: “Vanya is an administrator, the manager of his father’s estate who has woken from the dead – to glimpse the life he might have had. He rails against the circumstances that have kept him in servitude and the beliefs that sustained his life to that point, but it is all too late and he – like most of us – finds solace in the mundane, the minutiae of everyday life; in his work… and in the service of others.”
Uncle Vanya was published in 1897 and has had many stage and film adaptations in its long history. It has been adapted into an opera; won the coveted Laurence Olivier and Drama Desk Awards and has been studied by many hundreds of VCE students across the country. So, for lovers of Chekhov’s original work, what can they expect from Annie Baker’s translation:
“Well, perhaps at odds with her reputation as a young, edgy New York playwright, Annie Baker set out to make a version of the play as it would have been received by Russian audiences in its original incarnation,” says Whiteley. “So it’s very faithful to Chekhov’s play but maybe also brings to life the milieu of late nineteenth/early twentieth century rural Russia for modern audiences.”
For Whiteley these are all wonderful characters and that’s why everybody loves doing Chekhov. “Obviously Vanya is exciting because he’s complicated: a genteel, well educated landowner with literary aspirations who must work hard at running a rural estate and eeking out a very modest living, more perhaps in common with the new middle and working classes of the time. He’s full of frustration and resentment but he is dutiful and kind, desperately looking for an escape, hoping to find love,” he says.
Red Stitch continues to bring audiences varied, vital and potent theatre that is both thought provoking and, more often than not, completely stirring. The company is also interested in posing questions that tap into the human condition – a wonderful correlation with a playwright who predates our contemporary world yet his astute observations continue to linger.
Says Whiteley: “Chekhov seems concerned with individual will. Does personal desire make us unhappy? Or, in spite of the torment, is it what makes us most human? His plays are classics of early modern theatre alongside Ibsen and Strindberg. Chekhov reaches out to us on a human level as if he were writing right now. This play is compelling, deeply moving and very funny. ”
November 15 – December 17