Uncle Varick

May 8 2014 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩    Off-groove

King’s Theatre Tue 7 – Sat 10 May 2014

They say the best man always wins. It isn’t true in real life and it certainly isn’t the case if you’re in an Anton Chekhov play.

John Stahl and Jimmy Chisholm. Photo © Richard Campbell

John Stahl and Jimmy Chisholm. Photo © Richard Campbell

Uncle Varick, John Byrne’s adaptation of Chekhov’s classic play Uncle Vanya, meanders onto the stage at the King’s Theatre and leaves you wondering who the best man should have been and if, in fact, anyone should win at all.

In his updated retelling, first seen down the road at the Lyceum in 2004, Byrne attempts to crash 19th-century Russia, 60s London and a rural Scottish estate together like a mighty cymbal.

Which is not an obvious combination and whether it is music you would want to hear is open to debate…

Instead of an almighty awe-inspiring crash, Rapture Theatre’s production rattles in with a token rendition of a Beatles song, delivered by Dave Anderson as Willie John, the village idiot and wandering minstrel.

The nature of the play means it could have been set anywhere at any time. Chekhov’s original centres on the visit of an elderly gentleman and his younger wife to the rural estate that supports their urban lifestyle.

Byrne’s adaptation mirrors this with the return of art critic Sandy Sheridan and new wife Elaine. However, aside from a few references and the accompanying music during set changes, there is nothing to convince you that you’ve stepped back into the Swinging Sixties.

The characters here are somewhat lacklustre. Chekhov’s are unhappy, preoccupied with their frustrated hopes and dreams and wasted lives. Under Michael Emans’ direction, Byrne’s don’t quite hit the mark. Through all the boredom and ennui, you aren’t left with any sense of hope or any real motivation for their actions at all – you’re left wondering who you’re supposed to be rooting for and why?

“John Stahl delivers the performance of the evening”

Byrne attempts to weave some humour into the story, but this is largely forced and too often relies on the Scots language and dialect, which doesn’t seem to roll that naturally from the tongue of Maureen Carr who plays Kirsty Morag, the estate’s housekeeper.

Jimmy Chisholm & Ashley Smith. Photo © Richard Campbell

Jimmy Chisholm & Ashley Smith. Photo © Richard Campbell

The cast members deliver mixed performances. On the whole, the playing is a little stunted throughout the first act. The dialogue feels overly verbose and the actors do not seem to have found their comfort zone. However, this improves as the play progresses and, by the end, while still not entirely managing to deliver believable performances, they do seem to have found their pace.

Jimmy Chisholm, as Uncle Varick, seems to be emulating Father Jack, the drunken priest from sitcom Father Ted. He fails to convey any of the emotions his character requires, with the exception of a few flashes of jealously for his brother. On the other hand, John Stahl delivers the performance of the evening as his pretentious, oblivious and cantankerous brother Sandy.

While not quite hitting the mark, the show does have a lot of potential. Perhaps the unconstrained, free thinking world of the Sixties is not the ideal setting for a tragic tale of anguish and disillusionment, despite Uncle Varick’s frequent protestations of love.

Running time 2 hrs 30 mins (including interval)
Tue 7 – Sat 10 May 2014
Daily 7.30pm. (Matinees 2.30pm: Thurs, Sat)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Full details on the King’s Theatre website: www.edtheatres.com/Varick

Uncle Varick on tour:

Wed 7 – Sat 10 May Edinburgh
King’s Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Mon 12 May Motherwell
Concert Hall and Theatre
01698 403 120 Book online
Tue 13 May Greenock
Beacon Arts Centre
01475 723723 Book online
Wed 14 May Paisley
Arts Centre
0300 300 1210 Book online
Fri 16 May Kirkcaldy
Adam Smith Theatre
01592 583302 Book online
Sat 17 May Kilmarnock
The Palace Theatre
01563 554900 Book online
Tue 20 May Ayr
Gaiety Theatre
01292 288235 Book online
Wed 21May Bathgate
Regal Theatre
01506 630085 Book online
Thu 22 May Peebles
Eastgate Theatre
01721 725777 Book online
Sat 24 May Tobermory
Mull Theatre, Druimfin
01688 302211 Book online
Mon 2 – Tue 3 Jun Inverness
Eden Court
01463 234234 Book online
Wed 4 Jun Stirling
macrobert Arts Centre
01786 466666 Book online
Fri 6 Jun Musselburgh
Brunton Theatre
0131 665 2240 Book online


Varick Cast photo © Richard Campbell 800

The full cast of Rapture Theatre’s production of Uncle Varick. Photo © Richard Campbell


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  1. Rebus casting : All Edinburgh Theatre.com | Aug 3 2018
  1. alan roy says:

    If you are bored then go and see it, if you are really bored then have a hot bath.