Review: Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans

PUBLISHED: 13:25 20 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:22 22 February 2017

Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

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Breakaway Theatre Company performed Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans. Deborah Heath reviews the production.

Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

“Any idiot can face a crisis, it’s the day to day living that wears you out” – Anton Chekhov

There is much comedy and tragedy in our seemingly routine daily lives, but it takes a master like Chekhov to make us realise it through his gentle paced reflective plays.

What a challenge for today’s audience who are used to the instant gratification of action films and feel-good theatre.

How admirable of Breakaway Theatre and their debutant director to take the risk of staging a piece that forces us to take a good hard stare at ourselves.

Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

A risk too, because this kind of intense naturalism is very hard work, even for professional actors.

The plot of Uncle Vanya revolves around a family farm and the upset caused by the return of the owner.

This family, full of ponderous regrets and fruitless ambitions, were portrayed by a dedicated team of eight actors who overall did a great job of making life’s disappointments strike home.

Graeme Shaw gave an outstanding performance as Vanya, showing a great breath of talent, including the rare skill of playing a convincing drunk.

Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans Breakaway Theatre Company's production of Uncle Vanya at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

Lesley Cowland as Maria demonstrated a perfect example of how to play a smaller role; often silent yet always present.

An excellent performer also was a large carved wooden tree that stood centre stage.

This outstanding piece of scenery created by Emma Glithero was a clever tool, constantly reminding us of the passing of time and its gnarled branches mirroring the discordant relationships on stage.

This empathetic contraction is exactly what Chekhov’s work should inspire in an audience.

The lack of consistency with the Northern accents was off putting and the choice of the ukulele as a badly played instrument was not as funny as the screech of a recorder.

However, overall it was an ambitious project for an amateur company and I must congratulate Breakaway and the director Jon Baker, not only on their plucky choice of play but on its execution.

It is healthy for an audience to look into a mirror from time to time even if it isn’t comfortable to do so!

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