7-10 May 2014
Reviewed by Nicola Flynn
My evening at The King’s Theatre, really was a feast for all senses and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Thursday evening. It was the holy trinity for the lover of the arts; An audience with legendary John Byrne, Director Michael Emans (special event – 8 May only); a viewing of the domed auditorium created by Byrne (including a photographic art exhibition of the genesis of the commission) and finally we watched an adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Uncle Varick, also written by Byrne. As we Scot’s say, it was a braw Byrne’s Night!
We (my +1 reviewer and I, aka Dad) decided to travel by train into Edinburgh on account of the timing of the event. Edinburgh rush hour traffic and lack of parking in the area surrounding the King’s Theatre confirmed this was a good choice.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by the friendly King’s staff. We accepted the proffered glass of wine and were directed to the photographic exhibition, documenting the King’s Dome commission. The photographs (by contemporary Scottish Photographer Ron O’Donnell) depicted the project from its infancy through to completion. Amazingly, Byrne sketched the celestial design ‘All the World’s a Stage…’ on a piece of paper which was latterly transcribed onto the 57m2 dome. Various artists lead by Kevin Leary assisted with the transcription including his daughter. Byrne himself was depicted painting detail on the focal point of the piece – the flame haired woman pushing the moon through the sky.
There was a slight air of tension; we soon discovered that Byrne was ill and was unable to attend the event, however his daughter and actor Jimmy Chisholm would join Michael Emans for the first part of the evening. We were not disappointed; it was fascinating to get the perspective of 3 individuals who have been close to Byrne in the creation of the dome design, and the production of Uncle Varick.
Byrnes daughter, told stories of handing out programmes for Byrnes early production of The Slab Boys, and of creeping into his studio, nibbling on digestives as she watched her father painting. She also told of the 14 hour days during the 5 week period it took to complete the dome painting. We also had the chance to speak to her after the interview concluded about her father’s influences and growing up in Paisley.
With the first part of the evening over, we took our seats for the main focus of the evening; Byrnes adaptation of Chekkhov’s classic Uncle Vanya initially written in 1899.
Uncle Varick was a sad, yet humorous story set near Tain in Scotland. When renowned and pretentious art critic Sandy Sheridan returns to the Scottish estate from London, with his second, and very much younger wife. Varick (played by Jimmy Chisholm) starts to reflect on his ‘wasted life’ and resents the intrusion of the visitors.
The once impressive but now dilapidated estate, reflected the character Varick himself. Varick was once a fine man in his prime, but over the years, has been neglected, forgotten, and used by his pompous fraud of a brother in law. Varick sacrificed his life to manage the family estate; he truly believed he was a contributing pillar to rising star Sheridan and his sister (now deceased, Sheridan’s first wife) only now to discover Sheridan’s plans to sell. As the estate is the only thing Varick has to show for his 53 years, outranged he attempts Sheridan’s life with a chainsaw!
Regret is a common theme throughout the whole story; I found it interesting how the different characters dealt with their regret. The younger characters, Shona and Elaine view regret as experiences they have not had yet; they still have time for life changes. For the older characters, Varick, Michael and Sandy; are limited in life options, time has ran out. The melancholic theme is supplemented by acoustic versions of the Beatles, Nowhere man and Girl.
The play ends, with the Sandy and Elaine departing for London and Varick and his niece, returning albeit melancholically to their chores managing the estate.
One of Michael Emans aims with Rapture Theatre production is to bring plays and theatre to a wider audience in Scotland, to those who have never or rarely been to the theatre. As someone who’s theatre experience is limited to ‘An Inspector Call’s back in the 1980’s I’ve been inspired to see further plays and look forward to Rapture’s future productions.
Tickets for Uncle Varick cost £16.50 to £25 (plus booking fee).
For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0131 529 6000.
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9LQ | 0131 529 6000