|Uncle Vanya, actors and audience, Watford House|
photo Tess Hutson
This extraordinary production culminated a two-year process, working with the location of Watford House—a wooden house, pre-fabricated in Sweden in 1850 and imported to gold-rush Victoria—that has over the past 10 years been the site of artist Lyndal Jones’ remarkable environmental art site, The Avoca Project (TAP) which hosted the production. During the weekend, the 40-member audience (that’s all that could fit in the house) listened and rejoined as Watford House’s Swedish speaking walls entered a conversation with an English version of Chekhov’s Russian, improvised into vernacular Australian by director Bagryana Popov, the artistic team, and of course the actors on the day.
That weekend in Avoca the fourth wall of traditional theatre resoundingly broke down as the audience perched amid the action, inside and out. Yes, action—I know, Chekhov fans don’t expect action, anticipating instead much talk and a great deal of ennui. But that weekend we were actively on the move: shepherded by the director between rooms, and around outside spaces, then, between acts, making our own way through the Pyrenees. And, yes, there are Pyrenees in Victoria, beautiful, if very dry these days, speaking of the climate change that the characters discuss in the play. Because not only was the text Australian but so too was the context as Uncle Vanya and Sonia became regional Australian farmers, struggling as they do, and the Doctor emerged as an environmentalist, mapping the bush and forests, trying to save what he could.
|Uncle Vanya, Watford House, Avoca|
photo Stuart Liddell
At every turn, Uncle Vanya in Avoca offered another surprise. As in a Jean Luc Godard film, the unfolding process was made visible and audible and palpable. Particularly striking was the way that, with deft hand and voice the presence of director Bagryana Popov wove through every scene, as she responded to the actors with smiles, nods, furrowed brow and at times even some gentle prodding. Her energy and commitment inflected and infected the event. In the first few minutes of Act 1 when Popov went up to an actor and whispered in her ear, a frisson went through the audience—what was happening here? We knew suddenly that audience, actor, director—not to mention Anton Chekhov—were up for a phenomenal rethink, remix and re-experience and so they were, as this unique and innovative two-day theatre experience unfolded.
La Mama, Uncle Vanya in Avoca, director Bagryana Popov, performers James Wardlaw, Natascha Flowers, Todd MacDonald, Liz Jones, Olena Fedorova, John Bolton, Majid Shoko, Meredith Rogers, dramaturg Maryanne Lynch, music Elissa Goodrich; The Avoca Project, Watford House, Avoca, 21-22 March
Sound/media artist, theorist and Professor and Chair in Media Studies, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Norie Neumark is writing Voicetracks—voice, media, and media arts in the posthumanist turn for MIT Press (2016). Her collaborative art practice with Maria Miranda engages with questions of ecology, power and ethics (www.out-of-sync.com).
RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 30
© Norie Neumark; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org