Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 22. 1973
Uncle Vanya: — by Chekhov, at Downstage. Reviewed by Cathy Wylie
by Chekhov, at Downstage. Reviewed by Cathy Wylie.
Chekhoy's impressionistic, delicate characterisation and slow development of plot is an unusual choice for Downstage, which tends to prefer strong, pouncing writers. It's understand able that the cast seemed uneasy with the first scenes, tending to parody and play for the laughs they're accustomed to receiving. Gradually, however, the actors became absorbed in the pitiful collection of unrealised, self absorbent lives, to give some superb performances. David Tinkham as Vanya at lust overblown and self-conscious, suddenly improved after the interval. The histrionics became natural and fitting in the portrayal of a middle-aged man overcome by the discovery of a self denied for many years in the service of a man he now despises and envies for his wife. Janice Finn complements Tinkham's performance with her characterisation of Sonya, equally put upon and equally aware that love, and through it life, eludes her. Chekhoy rightly refuses to celebrate their self efacement and devotion to others who are hardly devoted to them; such indirect living is for him a tragedy, a negation of humanity. David Tinkham and Janice Finn give compelling, anguished performances. It's a pleasure to discover how good an actress Janice Finn can be, in a part that exerts rather than the smart, saucy roles that are usually her lot.
The other characters arc more cut-and-dried, certainly deliberately unsympathetic, even at times a little caricaturish - particularly the domineering 'professor', the old nurse, and the distant mother immersed in her feminist tracts. Grant Tilly is magnificent as the doctor caught up in provincialism, teetering on the edge of an abyss of fear, lost hope and sterility, talking of destruction of environment and humanity in terms that present day activists would applaud. At the same time he is ignorant of the quietly desperate plea of real people close to him. Vanya and the unbeautiful Sonya. I'm beginning to think that Grant Tilly is not only the most versatile actor in the country, but also one of the more intelligent and conscientious (partly because he refuses to be stereotyped?). Anne Flannery as the bored young wife of the elderly 'professor' who plays little-girl games with other people's feelings is at times very good, at others a little strained.
This production of 'Uncle Vanya' is a fine disturbing piece of theatre at its best — when it enriches understanding and, at the same time, questions the theatregoer's presumptions and his own communication lines. Chekhov's criticism is not confined to the bored and insensitive. The play is, ultimately, a plea for self respect and knowledge, without which communication is tenuous at best.