David Benedict on theatre

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According to sharp-shootin' Annie of "Get Your Gun" fame, "you can't get a man with a gun", but then she was no expert on Chekhov. The good doctor barely managed to write a play that ended without a bang. Duels, suicide, attempted murder, it sounds like a 19th-century version of Reservoir Dogs. Those who claim an allergy to the Russian master (below) and forswear performances of The Seagull and the like, muttering darkly about Stygian gloom and "why pay to see that sort of thing when you can get it at home", are missing out.

The recent Chekhov of choice has been Uncle Vanya. First there was the National Theatre production with Ian McKellen, closely followed by that of Theatr Clwyd, later filmed by and with Anthony Hopkins. Sam Neill and Greta Scaachi starred in Country, Michael Blakemore's film version of the play, while Louis Malle made the ravishing Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street, with breathtaking performances from Wallace Shawn and Julianne Moore.

Now along comes Howard Barker with his intriguing rewrite (Uncle) Vanya. In the original, Vanya fires a gun and misses. In Barker's version the shot is fatal, liberating forces that threaten to stifle the Chekhovian world. "I remade Vanya because I loved his anger," says Barker. It's a post-modern trick that has been played before, (often by Stoppard), and Theatre de Complicite are busy doing Coetzee's Foe, a reinvestigation of Robinson Crusoe. One of the best is Jean Rhys's novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a prequel which retells Jane Eyre from the point of view of "the madwoman in the attic". With luck, all of these will re-open other cases of artistic miscarriages of justice:

I Never Laid a Hand on Those Kids - The Real Joan Crawford Story; or How I ended up in the Fruit Cellar - Psycho V, The Mother's Story; or Dogged by Misfortune, The Life and Times of Cruella de Vil.

`(Uncle) Vanya' is at Leicester Haymarket from Thursday and then tours the country

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