This June, multi-award-winning director Bronwen Coleman (Dirt, Naomi, Ignis) and the Anthropocene Play Company breathe immediacy and new life into Anton Chekhov’s renowned classic, Uncle Vanya.
First published in 1898 and first performed in 1899 at the Moscow Art Theatre and directed by Russian theatre practitioner and founder of the System, Konstantin Stanislavsky, Uncle Vanya – according to actor Dion Mills – doesn’t date.
“Imagine a compulsory family gathering – maybe a Christmas lunch – and imagine that gathering lasting an entire hot, claustrophobic Summer. Imagine the mayhem and the emotional spot fires. Can be funny, watching from the outside, but for the actual players it’s kind of life and death,” says Mills. “That situation is as relevant as you and I.”
Mills felt compelled to be involved with the project the day after Theatre Works launched its 2023 season. “I looked at its program and saw that Anthropocene Play Company was doing Uncle Vanya and I thought that I’d love to be part of that,” he says. “Because I’ve never done a Chekhov and because I’d seen four productions directed by Bronwen Coleman in 2022 (including Dirt and Naomi) and knew I’d be in good hands.” And now that they’re in rehearsal it’s actually Coleman’s directorial process that excites. “The script too, obviously, but her way of guiding us into that script most especially.”
Mills plays the title character of the play – Ivan Petrovich Voinitsky, mostly referred to as Vanya, although his mother calls him Jean. Described as a bitter and broken man, he is, in effect, the unwilling host of this gathering, and he wants his life back. It’s been lost, maybe taken with Mills describing him as a Philosophical Pessimist who knows we get one shot at this life.
Perhaps relevant then that Chekhov was already sick with the Tuberculosis that would kill him just a few years later, at 44, as he was writing the work. Many surmise that this is why the play is laden with themes of mortality, asking “Does what I do matter? Will I be remembered?”
This season of Uncle Vanya will be an Australian premiere of the 2018 translation by Richard Nelson, Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky, already the recipient of rave reviews in America. Its trimmed interpretation is clear and illuminating and certainly feels very fresh says Mills adding that Vanya’s words feel like thoughts, not speeches.
The Anthropocene Play Company is a feminist company founded by Pia O’Meadhra, Clare Larman and Bronwen Colemen (a life member of New York’s famous Actors Studio.) This season of Uncle Vanya will feature the company ensemble with guest actors Mills along with Callum Mackay (Telegin) and Thilan Ahangama (the 2023 APC Emerging Artist.) Utilising their trademark Method Acting approach to storytelling, Uncle Vanya will offer audiences a rare chance to witness human behaviour on stage just as Stanislavsky and Chekhov intended.
Mills admits to having never worked using Method before. “It’s rather revelatory and the process is kind of incremental. It’s as if you’re all engaged in weaving (and growing) a safety net. Acting can feel like walking a tightrope at times, so safety nets are most welcome,” he says.
Complimenting the Method Acting style of the piece, the design will include period clothing and minimalist set, spotlighting the story and interactions between the characters and bringing that to the fore – much like scenes unfolding in a void. There is also the possibility the cast will remain on stage the entire time during the show.
Mills has been a member of the Red Stitch Actors’ ensemble since 2001, with recent productions including THE AMATEURS (2022), THE CANE (2021), POMONA (2019) and THE MOORS (2017). TV credits include NEW GOLD MOUNTAIN, WENTWORTH (Series 8), JACK IRISH (Series 2), IT’S A DATE (Series 2), WOODLEY; CITY HOMICIDE and STINGERS. As an actor, he likes well-written characters in well-written stories. People are the only theme.
This powerful and dynamic new translation is direct from New York, and an Australian premiere. The Anthropocene Play Company focuses on bringing the text to accessible, visceral life – the result is Chekhov’s work as you’ve never experienced it before.
Mills’ wish is that audiences experience real and intricate lives being lived – you’ll never have experienced anything like it before!
June 7 – 17