A classic which has been transformed by contemporary playwright Peter Gill, Uncle Vanya presents a narrative of lust and conflict as a new relationship introduces complication to the characters’ rural estate in Russia.
Contributor Faith Dunne chats to actress Rosie Sheehy, who stars as Sonya in the show.
“I loved the new adaptation by Peter Gill,” says Sheehy. “It was such an easy read, which doesn’t usually happen when I read a classic. It’s a real gift to have been cast.”
Since graduating, Sheehy has built up an impressive CV, with performances at the Old Vic and Chichester Festival Theatre. Recently, she appeared as Kat Richards in British TV series DCI Banks. Uncle Vanya is Sheehy’s sixth professional production.
“Sonya’s part is brilliant because she doesn’t speak up for what she wants and I wish she did yet she just battles on with everything,” comments the actress. “She keeps a lid on her emotion just to get by. And she’s not plain, she’s just busy. She might not be well turned out but she doesn’t know how to present herself.”
Many of the issues Uncle Vanya highlights are as relevant today as they were to the society when Anton Chekhov originally wrote the play in the 19th century.
“A theme which breaks my heart is if you’re not pretty or beautiful you don’t quite get the same perks,” states Sheehy. “Take Elena [the young and beautiful wife of Uncle Vanya’s brother]: the room is nicer and people are kinder to her. But Waffles, a character with a pitted face, is treated completely differently. There’s a correlation between not having good looks and your luck through life, which is the way it is but it is crap. Today I feel like if you’re not massive on Instagram you just get a harder time.”
The relentless pressure for women to constantly look ‘well turned out’ is not the only comparison that Sheehy draws with today’s society. “The play was written in 1897. People witter on about saving the trees but it must have been such a passion for Chekhov himself and he was really on the mark in terms of what we’re doing to the planet. In a modern day of ever-growing veganism you just think, good lord, he already knew.”
However, an aspect of the play which sets it apart from its historic equivalent is the fact Tamara Harvey directed the actors to use their own accents. As an actress originally from Wales, Sheehy found this unusual. “I went through the whole of my training not using an accent; I’ve only done one play before where I’ve used my own accent. I think that voice is such a way in and if you don’t have that then it feels very naked; you can’t use it as a tool that you can use to transform yourself. But I think that Welsh and Russian are very similar. Both cultures and both folk seem to be very blunt and fiery; there’s a real bluntness in the way they move, the way they speak. I think it’s so much more interesting than standard English which we see so much.”
Although Uncle Vanya has been highly commended by critics, Sheehy reveals that she has one rule: “I don’t look at any reviews until the job is over. As a young actor, it’s important to gauge a benchmark but if I read a review whilst I was doing a play I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it.”
Sheehy only graduated from RADA two years ago and has clearly been successful since but where does she herself in a few years? “I would love to be in a position where I can choose to do whatever medium,” says Sheehy. “I always want to work in media, whether that be TV, radio, theatre or film. Success to me is to work with brilliant people and on brilliant stories.”
Uncle Vanya is playing at the Studio Theatre until Saturday 4 November 2017.
Photo [top] by The Other Richard