The last of the big summer productions on the main stage is a version of the revered Russian classic Uncle Vanya by Chekhov.

Reworked by Alan Ayckbourn it is relocated from a Russian dacha to a dwindling country estate in Ennerdale.

The first two acts are more like a slow-paced country-house drama as battle lines and personalities are drawn.

But after the interval there are fireworks, farce, comedy and some real pathos the result of a disastrous family meeting.

There are some wickedly funny set pieces and director Tom Littler makes the most of every drop of humour. Frequent references to Cumbrian places and Cumbrian-isms went down very well with the audience.

He also gets full marks for the choreographed scene-setting by the cast as the action moves from act to act before a simple effective backdrop.

Best of friends Dominic Gately (as Marcus, beloved uncle of Sonya) and Chris Porter (doctor Ash, the target of Sonya’s affections) play off each other well and Asha Kingsley as honeypot Helena floats seductively.

But the characters are too self-centred to really endear themselves to us, apart from teenage Sonya - a nuanced performance from Joelle Brabban.

A late substitution for a poorly Georgina Ambrey, she made the most of her opportunity as the love-struck, sensitive-yet-sensible teen.

Sonya binds the characters together with Brabban’s clever comedy skills are to the fore.

And while thwarted Marcus rails at his pompous elder brother-in-law for wasting his life in the Ennerdale backwater, smitten Sonya earns most sympathy from the audience.

Aside from Ayckbourn’s serious comments about deforestation - perfectly on-point with today’s concerns about the environment, it’s a bittersweet comedy that leaves us asking questions of each other and ourselves.


n Dear Uncle runs until November 2. For tickets, call 017687 74411 or visit