Nicholas Le Prevost
Its been a long while coming, but Peter Halls Rose Theatre in Kingston-upon-Thames has finally opened its doors to the public.
A couple of years ago, when the shell of the glossy and glass-fronted building part of an uninspiring riverside development was complete, but the interior still unfinished, Hall staged a production of As You Like It amidst the raw concrete and exposed piping. This allowed for a brief, tantalising glimpse at this unusual and exciting space. But, after that: nothing. Followed by a bit more nothing as the project was dogged by delays, mainly funding related, falling off many peoples cultural radars as a result.
Roll on 2008 and the theatre is finally ready for business. And the finished space is really quite something. With a layout modelled on the original Rose Theatre in Southwark, the circular 900 seat auditorium manages to feel both fresh and modern, while also nodding towards the theatre of the past. In front of the stage theres a pit area where audience members can sit on the floor (bringing your own cushion is recommended) and despite its considerable size, it has an appealingly intimate atmosphere.
Its just a shame that the venues debut production, while decent enough, doesnt really demonstrate what the space is capable of. Halls staging of Chekhovs Uncle Vanya, produced with English Touring Theatre, though a solid and satisfying thing, is one that offers few surprises.
Alison Chittys design is appealingly minimal: a scattering of tables and chairs and single autumnal tree against a soft blue backdrop, evoking the Russian countryside. The ensemble cast is, as stated, solid. Neil Pearson has the requisite caddish charm as the besotted doctor, Astrov, and Michelle Dockery is also fine as the beautiful, brittle Yelena, though shes not nearly as captivating here as she was in Halls recent Pygmalion and theres something a little stiff and mannered about her constant declarations of despair.
Nicholas Le Provost makes an amiable and poignant Vanya, but its Loo Brealy as pale, plain Sonya, infatuated with a man who barely notices her, who is the most engaging to watch, and who gives this production its heart and humanity.
Hall successfully brings out the frantic, farcical quality of Vanyas clash with the Professor and he nails the oppressive bleakness of the closing moments, when the carriages depart and the characters return to their routine, though he doesnt quite tap the full of extent of the Russian capacity for melancholy. This is a gentle and elegant production, one that delivers exactly what it was designed to deliver and is worth catching either here or on its upcoming tour, but this space is capable of much more and it deserves to be used for something a bit more daring.
Uncle Vanya will be playing at the Rose Theatre until 9 February then touring throughout 2008