ARTS AND FEATURES — 15 August 2014
Iliana Efthymiadi and Reuben Williams onstage as Sonya and Vanya

Iliana Efthymiadi and Reuben Williams onstage as Sonya and Vanya

By David Hennessy

5 stars

Previous productions by Irish director Gavin McAlinden’s Acting Gymnasium (The Seagull, Ivanov, The Playboy of the Western World) have impressed as whole pieces as well as introductions to new acting talent. The trend continues with the immensely enjoyable Uncle Vanya which is part of the Camden Fringe.

The title character Uncle Vanya, played by Reuben Williams, seems to only be excited by the wife of the professor whose estate he has worked his whole life to preserve. Reuben is charismatic in this role, addressing the audience directly at times but in a way that is easy to relate to.

Becca Van Cleave goes through the full range of emotions with her performance as Yelena, the professor’s young wife, from spurning Vanya’s unwanted advances, accepting the doctor’s although with reluctance and then finally the fear and shame when exposed.

Moments after his heart is shattered by seeing Yelena in Astrov’s arms, Vanya hears that the professor plans to sell the estate. He believes the estate is the property of Sonya, his niece, following his sister’s death and he builds to a startling explosion, first roaring at the professor and then coming back with a gun.

The other main characters of this drama are the doctor Astrov (Brian Appiah Obeng) who is feeling unsatisfied with his life having never married, the professor’s daughter Sonya (Iliana Efthymiada) who is increasingly tired of tending to her father and being ignored by the doctor who does not see her as beautiful.

Sonay, played by Iliana Efthymiadi, confides in Becca Van Cleave's Yelena

Sonay, played by Iliana Efthymiadi, confides in Becca Van Cleave’s Yelena

Iliana Efthymiadi makes Sonya the easiest character to sympathise with due to all she endures and all she is willing to “endure”. It is Sonya that talks sense into Uncle Vanya when he seems way past listening to reason.

Brian Appiah Obeng is compelling to watch throughout. The heat is palpable in the steamy scenes between his character and Becca Van Cleave’s.

The transitions have to be mentioned with the change of scene pre-interval disguised by the dance moves of Brian Appiah Obeng and Julie Tomi Pettite which are so entertaining the audience forgets that props are being moved around. The later transition comes when Uncle Vanya’s heart has been broken and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart is very aptly used.

Also currently showing at Theatro Technis is The Cherry Orchard, another Acting Gymnasium production, directed by James O’Donnell.

Uncle Vanya is at Theatro Technis at 7.30pm on August 15, 19, 21 and 23, at 2.30pm on August 16 and 20.

The Cherry Orchard is at Theatro Technis at 7.30pm on August 16, 18, 20 and 22 and at 2.30pm on August 19 and 23. For more information, go to www.actinggymnasium.co.uk.

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