Published in the Guardian Rapture Theatre on tour Three stars
ANTON Chekhov's plays are populated with characters burdened by a sense of missed opportunity, but they are not mere exercises in self-pity. He has too great an awareness of the world beyond for that. For all their farcical failures and thwarted ambitions, his characters are products of their society – one that is changing in ways they cannot control.
That's why John Byrne alights on the 1960s for the setting of this transposition of Uncle Vanya, first seen 10 years ago. The estate of pompous cultural pundit Sandy Sheridan may seem cut off from the tides of time as it sits in isolated grandeur in the north-east of Scotland, but this is the swinging era of Rubber Soul, pop art and two-tone mini-skirts, as postwar education reforms are breaking down the old hierarchies. Like it or not, something's got to give.
In this context, Jimmy Chisholm's Varick is a man who has downplayed his intelligence in deference to John Stahl's vainglorious Sutherland, a superficial fraud who has sustained a media career on borrowed ideas. Where the towering Stahl is bad tempered, arrogant and relentlessly successful, the light-footed Chisholm is funny, cynical and defeated. The legacy of the aristocratic order means the best man does not win.
Working counter to the spirit of this update is a rather Victorian staging by Michael Emans that seems restrained by the shallowness of Jessica Brettle's attractively dilapidated set. Confined to the wooden floorboards, the actors can't quite let you forget they're on a stage. I've seen it funnier, sadder and more purposeful, but the performances are very good, with George Anton repressing his animal passions as a patrician doctor, Maureen Carr relishing Byrne's baroque phrasings as the old nurse, Ashley Smith touchingly stoical as the lovelorn Shona, and Selina Boyack suggesting the loneliness behind an ice-cold exterior as Sheridan's wife.