Vulture Magazine interviews Laurence Strangio, Director of Uncle Vanya.
See the interview in its original context here.
Laurence Strangio has adapted and directed the play Uncle Vanya, originally by Anton Chekhov, and it’s being performed from today until the 3rd of June at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne. We caught up with Strangio ahead of the premiere to talk Chekhov, 19th century Russia and wall-chewing ennui.
What part does the performance space have in the final production of plays you have directed in the past?
The performance space is a major influence in all of my work. It provides a jumping off point for the creative ideas in staging the piece and also a tangible source of inspiration for the performers – a creative obstacle and silent collaborator. Recent productions have been very reliant on the performance space. Two in particular are Six Characters In Search Of An Author and Waiting for Godot from last year, both of which were specifically created for and set within La Mama Theatre and made use of every inch of space, every door (including the trapdoor), every surface, even the laneways, the courtyard and upstairs. The space itself added meaning and gave new life to these ‘classic’ 20th century plays, making them current in the truest sense as they were happening right here, right now right in front of you (the audience was a major factor, especially in Six Characters…).
How does fortyfivedownstairs impact on your production of Uncle Vanya?
fortyfivedownstairs is such a vast and beautifully decadent space and its crumbling inner-urban atmosphere is strangely evocative of the wall-chewing ennui of life on the estate in Vanya. We are making full use of the landscape width of the space and occupying every inch of the room with the claustrophobic trappings of these 9 characters forced to spend the summer together. As well as the visual aesthetic of the space, the size of the Fortyfivedownstairs space allows us to give each character a place to occupy throughout the play, somewhere to go to attempt to get away from each other. It is a pleasure to be able to spread ourselves throughout the space and even beyond it into the laneway and offstage spaces.
What parallels do you draw between Russia in the closing years of the 19th century and 21st century Melbourne?
The play is terrifyingly prescient in its representation of people with busy lives who get sucked into the trap of idle chatter and endless complaint – whining about being too busy, about being too bored, being resentful of others and dissatisfied with themselves. Chekhov could easily have been describing a typical suburban backyard discussion, or the café latte chatter of inner-urban Melbourne. These people are so infuriating and all around the their natural environment is being devastated, as Dr Astrov in the play continually reminds us. It’s frighteningly alike to the current climate change debate and sadly we have learned very little, it seems, in the past hundred years. Hopefully we can stop chattering about ourselves and start doing something about bigger things before it is well and truly too late.
“Anton Chekhov is a multi-tasking overachiever.” Discuss.
Gee, how many words do I have? A doctor, a philosopher, a prolific short-story writer, and, oh yes, a major playwright who transformed theatre from melodrama to a truly modern form. And the man was the equivalent of the modern day blogger in his letter writing as well. I suppose that he saw a lot in his time as a doctor and had a great deal of material to draw on in his depiction of the human condition in his plays and stories. Yes, the man says a lot and expresses his philosophy on how we can live together very humanely through his characters, with comedy, with tragedy and with love.
Why should our 18-30 year old Vulture readers come to see your production of Uncle Vanya?
This is no ‘hip’ updating of Chekhov with mobile phones and gratuitous Facebook references. Instead there’s love, pain, desire, a guitar and a gun battling it out in a raw, funny, honest dissection of the bittersweet symphony of contemporary life. These people are us, worrying about their futile schemes and failed love-lives while the world crumbles around them. See it so that you don’t end up living it out yourselves in a year or two’s time. Much better that you get to come and have a laugh at Vanya’s expense and maybe get a few tips on how not to end up like him along the way…