Crying shame

THEATRE Uncle Vanya Tricycle Theatre, NW6
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The Independent Culture
The resigned stasis of Vanya's rural household has been disturbed by the arrival of his former brother-in-law, the Professor, and his delectable young wife, Elena. The plain stage (chairs stacked on an oak table) is invaded by a flurry of retainers who set the scene - a samovar, a ladder leant against a wall - then Elena wanders through with flowers, and the doctor, Astrov, enters in an astrakhan hat. Peter Gill's production for Field Day is full of such details, yet it remains wilfully unenlivened by them.

Frank McGuinness's translation is rich with his customary mixture of poeticism and Irish vernacular, which was so successful for the Cusacks' Three Sisters. The Chekhov idiom of melancholy, humour and self-ridicule translates fluently into an Irish setting, yet unaccountably this premier Irish company only fleetingly does justice to the vibrancy of the writing: the cast seems split between those who downplay McGuinness's lyricism and those who milk it too much.

Stephen Rea is a youthful Vanya, only just on the brink of the chagrin which his encroaching age has brought him to. ("I'm 47. If I live to 60, that's 13 years I've got left. That's a long time, 13 years.") He portrays a man embued with the mannerisms of boredom, yet his performanceseems mannered. He is at his best in moments of sarcastic brooding and furious resentment, but he otherwise adopts a pathos-ridden brand of humour; his failed murder attempt is virtually slapstick.

Kim Thomson portrays Elena as an ordinary woman who is doing her best to limit the damage her gorgeousness causes, but her performance is marred by coquetry. She conceives a passion for Astrov too late and between them they lack the necessary spark of sexuality to make it seem any more than dog-in-the-manger selfishness.

Zara Turner as Sonya is clearly not "plain, plain, plain" as the text proclaims, yet her performance is wonderfully right. She sits listening to Enda Oates' unattractive Astrov proclaiming that he loves no one with the disbelief of outrageous optimism, and then recounts radiantly her own boldness: "I said to him, `you are full of grace!'". That moment, even more than her final resignation to suffering, conveys the sense of desperate regret this play so compellingly expresses.

n To 29 Apr (0171-328 1000)