“Don’t tell me the moon is shiny! Show me the glint of light on broken glass!”
So said playwright Anton Chekhov. And Cestrians can see how Chekhov put these words into practice through his writing, when Chester Little Theatre performs the classic ‘Uncle Vanya’, from Saturday, November 10th to 17th inclusive.
I spent some time with Cassian Wheeler, starring as Vanya in the play. The Durham University graduate and teacher of R.E at a Cheshire Secondary school, hugely enjoys taking on the role. His first acting role was as an eight-year-old, as ‘Balder the Bright and Beautiful’ in a school play. The only detail I’m given is that a sprig of mistletoe killed poor Balder. We swiftly move on! Later at Kings in Chester, Cassian regularly trod the boards, also playing violin with Chester Philharmonic Orchestra. He still enjoys this, be it irregularly, he hastens to add.
Over the years Cassian has acted with a number of companies but always stays faithful to Chester Little Theatre. He was in the Mystery Plays in 2013, taking on a variety of parts, including Jesus at a special performance at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Through the Mystery Plays, Cassian met scriptwriter Stephanie Dale, who later adapted a book about Russian navigator Valerian Albanov’s 1914 Expedition to the Siberian Arctic, turning it into a one-man play called ‘A World Beyond Man’. And so a century after the expedition, Cassian premiered this at Edinburgh Fringe, later touring it to the Scottish Highlands, finishing at Easdale Island off the West coast.
Recently Cassian has been at CLT rehearsing ‘Uncle Vanya’, which is imaginatively directed by Jane Barth. He finds Vanya a fascinating character, with very human faults and foibles. And the fact that Vanya is virtually the same age helps Cassian empathise!
I ask Cassian how he prepared for the play. I wonder if he zooms through the script parrot-like, or concentrated only on Vanya’s character? Cassian does his homework; he develops character lists. He works out what each character thinks about the others, including his. He also lists biographical details, which go far in creating a character’s stage persona.
Some actors, it seems, have special superstitious rigmaroles they go through before walking on stage. I once read of an actress who always spouts her last lines to herself, before stepping out to deliver her first lines to an audience! Others have a repeated, special mantra.
Cassian recalls Peter Herbert, the Mystery Plays Stage Manager, who always finished pre-performance chat with the words: “ Enjoy yourselves! Keep each other safe!” And Francis Tucker, 2014’s Lucifer, always implored each person in the opening scene: “Be brilliant!”
Cassian terms the play a ‘chamber piece’. Nine characters are connected to each other in some way, placed in one location. The time scale is merely two days. Intrigue and explosive arguments reign, plus unrequited love and passions are regularly fuelled. And there are, says Cassian, moments of pure tenderness and serious realisation. It’s a bewitching concoction, which is part of the pleasure of Chekhov.
Interestingly, Cassian finds the characters very modern; their problems and emotions are timeless, as is their compelling story. He quotes Chekhov’s amusing but true advice: “Show Life and Men as they are, and not as they would look if you put them on stilts!”
‘Uncle Vanya” had its Moscow Premier in 1899. Now you can book Chester Theatre Club’s 2018 interpretation on TICKET SOURCE: 0333 666 3366 or book online here.