Late in the play, Astrov has the line “It’s like being in a farce” – except a farce has pace and zip, which are lacking in this show. The adaptation by Brendan Murray uses modern idiom (Hang on/ the hell with it) but the actors do not build on this, but declaim their lines as if each is of critical import. This pompous reverence leaves the audience confused: should we laugh; was that a funny line? The setting may be unbearable summer heat, but that does not mean lines should be delivered in a laboured way: indeed, irascibility should fire the bickering between characters. Sadly, in the big set piece argument between Vanya and Serebryokov , the actors appear to be waiting for each other to speak, then presenting another speech. It is not a realistic argument. Before that, if you kiss onstage, especially in such a small space, it needs to be committed. Not here; quite unconvincing.
I would have liked James Stone, as director, to have worked out a style for the actors to present rather than each seeming in a different play. It was strange when soliloquys were delivered directly to audience members, breaking the fourth wall and making us more aware of artificiality.
Gilly Daniels as Nanny Marina was alone in being totally believable and a delight throughout. Her attention to detail and subtlety of performance was beautiful. The set invites the cast to make full use of the space, as they negotiate the imposing gate-leg table which commands the centre of the room. There is a good sense of period in details of set and costume. An effective strained glass skylight hints at the country house. There is effective use of lanterns and candles to illuminate the night scenes.
The slow pace allowed me to consider the etiquette of the samovar: tea first or water first? The two actresses each did it differently – had they not talked about it, or was there significance in their characters’ contrasting technique?
Although I am sure this production will sharpen up as the actors become more familiar with the other performers’ parts, I am afraid that Astrov’s ecological awareness is timely but hardly sufficient justification for this production.