Chekhov to the rescue

Outside Arcola Theatre at night

Arcola is a bustling but calm retreat in the heart of Dalston

Six months after a fundraising gap left a Hackney Theatre £110,000 short of the money it needed to relocate, its latest play has been given glowing reviews across the national media.

The Arcola Theatre in Dalston collaborated with the Belgrade in Coventry to produce an English translation of the Russian play Uncle Vanya.

The tragic comedy, written by Anton Chekhov, tells the story of a retired celebrity and his beautiful young wife who return to their country estate.

Their presence brings out disillusionment, misplaced love and thwarted passion in those that have spent their days working in the shadow of their famous ‘excellency’ and changes their lives forever.

The story is played out on a humble set made up of a scruffy dining table and chairs, a piano and a row of silver birches in the background.

The props are so close to the stalls it’s as if the audience is leaning against the wall in Chekhov’s imaginary front room, holding its breath to watch this dysfunctional home without being noticed.

As the play begins, a doctor lies down on a bench, crosses his legs in the air and puts his hat over his eyes less than a foot from the front row.

Voyeuristic excitement and an underlying fear of embarrassment shoots through the crowd and this bare-brick former clothing factory in Dalston is filled with the tension of a fiery family exchange.

Poster for Uncle Vanya at The Arcola theatre in Dalston

A century old and Uncle Vanya's themes remain relevant

A moment later and the audience is shaking with laughter as Uncle Vanya stifles any chance of the household having a pleasant meal together as he parades the floor with sardonic self-pity.

Director Helena Kaut-Howson’s use of the contrast between deep sadness and howling humour in Chekhov’s play gives the production a freshness that has been reflected by four star reviews in newspapers such as The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Times.

It’s to Arcola’s credit that, despite tickets to Uncle Vanya and it’s other shows regularly selling out, the theatre strives to make its productions accessible to all.

Every Tuesday evening, Arcola sells a limited number of ‘Pay What You Can’ tickets, and there’s no limit to how little or how much people pay, as long as it’s what they can afford.

The theatre works to include people of all ages, involving schools and offering Hackney residents over the age of 50 the opportunity to take part in free drama sessions every Wednesday evening.

Hackney’s large Turkish community is also represented with regular performances of Turkish plays, such as Asiye Nasil Kurtulur (How Can Asiye Be Saved), performed in the language they were written.

Re-usable tickets from the Arcola Theatre

Re-usable tickets from the Arcola Theatre

The theatre is also on a mission to become the world’s first carbon neutral theatre through its Arcola Energy programme.

This spans everything from recycling bottles and building facilities from old sets, to the hydrogen fuel cell powering the LED lighting in the cafe/bar and its adventurous Studio 1 lighting rigs.

It also runs Green Sundays, which are an informal and friendly meeting place for people to explore environmental issues through film, music, theatre, poetry and discussion.

The next Arcola Green Sunday has a theme of cycling and all things bike. Developed in partnership with ArtsAdmin, it will see artistic interventions on the streets of East London, along with workshops, talks, film screenings and lots more.

For more information on all of Arcola’s events, visit the website or call 020 7503 1646.

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