Direction : Vikash Khurana
Writer : Anton Chekhov
Cast : Vikash Khurana, Bianca Nazareth-Arya, Varun Vij, Gurnoor Bedi, Nandan Majumdar and Anurag Kulkarni


Deepa Punjani


Vikash Khurana's Staegecraft theatre from Nagpur has had the opportunity and the good fortune to stage some of its plays in Mumbai, which could otherwise be a daunting task for outstation theatre groups. Last year, the group staged its play ROPE (reviewed for our website) at the NCPA Centrestage festival. Recently this year, it staged its children's production THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS at the NCPA Summer Fiesta and at the Prithvi Summertime festival. Sometime ago, NCPA Select hosted its production of Anton Chekhov's UNCLE VANYA.


A classic like UNCLE VANYA (published in 1897) can be universal and timeless as Stagecraft theatre's production proves. The production retains the original script with minor changes by Ankita Athawale in order to make it conducive to an Indian context. But apart from negligible changes in terms of the locale (we are to presume the play is set in a tea estate in the remote mountains of India's northeast region) and the 'Khasi' tribe of people that Michael the doctor attends to, this is hardly a full-fledged Indian adaptation. The noticeable changes are the absence of characters like Vanya's mother, the nurse and a workman. It appears that the director has felt that he could dispense with these characters.

The production mainly scores on account of its ability to focus on the words of the original play. Director Vikash Khurana, who also plays Uncle Vanya (Ivan), recognises the inherent strengths of the play and he and his team have tried to maximise this in their performance. The sum result is a laudable and sincere attempt that plays out the action within the choices made. Apart from Khurana, the other actors, with the exception of Gurnoor Bedi's Sonia, are good but restrained. One may feel even deliberately so, perhaps not to appear out of character or overly dramatic. It is only with Khurana's Uncle Vanya and to some extent with Varun Vij's Michael where it seems that the actors are willing to explore their roles and make them nuanced.

Alex, the Professor (Nandan Majumdar) and Waffles (Anurag Kulkarni) who looks like the manservant of the family but is actually a poor landowner, dependent on the family, are also good in their parts, but one can't help but notice the studied mannerisms; the small careful gestures, sometimes drawn out excruciatingly. The internalisation when it occurs is commendable but it's not always so. It is almost as if the actors have been given a standing brief that they need to occupy themselves with small but perceptible actions so as to not appear as fixtures, especially when they are being observers to the interaction between the other characters in the household. This technique works well; it certainly makes things more natural but it also gets a little too obvious.

The weaker links in this otherwise competent production are the two women. Bianca Nazareth-Arya who plays Helen, the Professor's second wife, is however more confident than Gurnoor Bedi who plays the Professor's daughter, Sonia from his first marriage. Sonia like Uncle Vanya and Michael has some fine and telling lines but they are sadly lost in performance.

Yet in spite of the loopholes in the overall nature of the performance, Stagecraft singlehandedly scores in its understated way to bring to life a text underlined with poignancy and philosophy. Uncle Vanya and Doctor Michael in their joined yet unrequited love for Helen are also deeply aware of the futility of their existence. When ideals break down as in Uncle Vanya's life, which has been devoted to the Professor and his estate, we cannot help but feel sorry for the man. In his sorrow we may even reflect on the times past and opportunities lost. Intelligence and knowledge are important but so are youth and vitality. The penultimate scene in which Uncle Vanya confronts the Professor brings the best out in Khurana's performance.

The stage design is simple and appropriate enough. Plastic shrubbery which otherwise might feel tacky blends in with the decor. Waffles' (Anurag Kulkarni) music that he plays live as he hums and sings is one of the best and integrated achievements of the production. The music and the songs in the opening and the closing scenes in Stagecraft's production add great texture to one of Chekhov's most remarkable plays.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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