Dalston is a hip, vibrant area of London with a real buzz. The fabulous and original nail heaven WAH is here as well as cute little eateries serving up "a little of what you fancy". Turn a few corners away from Kingsland Road and you are at the Arcola, a bright independent theatre with a hefty helping of panache.
I was there at the new theatre opening a few months ago and the transformation is exciting, though the makeshift loos are still a treacherous journey away! Arcola treat their press people well with a complimentary array of nibbles (olives of every variety), and a beer on the house. There is a friendly welcome at the door.
This season the Arcola stage two Chekhov plays, Uncle Vanya and later in June, The Seagull. Chekhov is a writer who uses the mundane to express a broader opinion of life. I was immediately struck by the naturalness of both the writing and acting in this new production of Uncle Vanya, and for this I must congratulate the inspired director, Helena Kaut-Howson. She bravely took on the task of translating the famous script, offering a fresh and exciting new perspective that stays true to the spirit of the original.
Women seem to both fascinate and confuse Chekhov who often portrays them as crazed creatures, screaming and dancing madly round the room. This is true of both The Seagull and Uncle Vanya which both feature captivating young leading ladies. Marianne Oldham looks striking in a full length white gown as the temptress Yelena Andreyevna. Oldham successfully grasps the enigmatic persona of this much desired woman, though I noticed twinges of nervousness that occasionally broke the beguiling illusion.
The action is centred around a dysfunctional family, each character has their own pessimistic reasons for wanting to escape the boredom and monotony of the estate property. Uncle Vanya is the most frustrated, and finds relief in adoring and fantasising about Yelena. Jon Strickland is brilliant as Vanya, he creates a multi dimensional character and I was absorbed by his rendition.
There is a good ensemble balance throughout - one of the most intriguing scenes comes from the three drunken men, who are hilariously convincing as they stumble about giggling and joking. Simon Gregor gives a deeply thoughtful, nuanced performance as the handsome Doctor Mikhail Astrov and Paul Bigley is a hysterical asset to the cast as the kind Ilya Telegin.
Designer Sophie Jump must have had a fun job decorating the stage for this play; the space already has such a wonderful atmosphere it lends itself to dramatic work. Nonetheless Jump found some modest antiques to imbue the scene with Russian charm.
As ever, the Arcola delights with its instinctive and creative production. They succeeded with the original commissioned play The Painter, and now we see the genius of their updating of a classic - is there anything they can’t do?
Uncle Vanya continues until 4 June, book here.