Liverpool Network Theatre believes in theatre as a political force that should be accessible to all, a medium with the power to change society for the better. If that sounds heavy-going, don’t let that put you off.
Its latest production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya was a shining example of this – a play with a real intensity at its heart, with moments of humour that prevent it descending into over-earnestness.
A superb introduction to the work of this long-established community group, the actors performed with an impressive confidence and grasp of the text.
Vanya (Darren Jones) is struggling to run a country farm with his niece Sonya (Jennifer Campbell). His older brother Serebryakov (Frank Kennedy), a professor, has come to convalesce from illness that has put an end to his career and city life; his beautiful, younger wife Yelena (Helen McGill) in tow.
Also in the mix is travelling doctor Astrov (Demian Stimson), who sets pulses racing by virtue of his otherworldliness. As each of the characters adjusts to their lot, will anyone be able to find the life they really want?
For a play heavy with political and social themes – town versus country, brain versus brawn, youth versus experience – this production was handled deftly and wasn’t short on laughs or moving moments. Neither of the two hour acts outstayed its welcome, and the long scenes flowed well.
Andy Kerr’s direction kept the action moving, and the warmth of secondary characters like nice-but-dim Waffles (Michael Leane) and nanny Marina (Eve Smith) helped build a convincing sense of community among the characters. Patrick Maguire’s simple but evocative set was the perfect backdrop for this stripped-back, yet thoughtful and thoroughly absorbing production.