Theatre preview: Uncle Vanya, West Yorkshire Playhouse

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Dublin-born ACTOR David Ganly is in Leeds to take on the role of Uncle Vanya at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. He spoke to Julie Marshall

The rolling hills and wide-open spaces of the Yorkshire Dales may be thousands of miles away from the Russian steppes but they are providing inspiration for David Ganly, soon to take on the eponymous role of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The Dublin-born actor loves Yorkshire. “ I love the people and it’s on the same latitude as my home town so the light is very similar,” he says. And so enamoured is he with Leeds that he’s chosen to base himself in the city for the entire six weeks of rehearsal and the four weeks of the production.

Ganly may not be a household name but he has an impressive CV - the majority of it centred around the theatre, although he has a smattering of film and TV roles to his credit. He played Dave in the musical version of The Full Monty when it made the switch from Broadway and has just finished a nine-month run in the West End playing Richard Burbage in Shakespeare in Love where one critic said: ‘David Ganly offers a wicked impersonation of Brian Blessed as his (Shakespeare’s) boomingly theatrical rival Burbage.’ He last worked at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2011 when he played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz

This is the first time in its history Uncle Vanya has been staged at the WYP. A newly-commissioned version by playwright Samuel Adamson, it is directed by Mark Rosenblatt, fresh from the success of his sell-out WYP debut Of Mice and Men last year.

Uncle Vanya, written by Chekhov in 1897, has come to be considered one of the greatest plays of the 19th century. Billed as a dark, funny, romantic exploration of cross-purposed love, bitter jealousy and family dysfunction, it was first performed at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1899, directed by Konsantin Stanislavski.

The part of Vanya is much prized among actors of ‘a certain age’. Though the character is 47 he is usually portrayed by theatrical veterans 10 years older. Ganly, a relative youngster of 45 says: “Because it’s such a great part, once actors get to a certain stage in their career they think they’d earned the right to take on the role.

“Sam has done an amazing translation of the play and it’s very respectful to the original. “The doctor Astrov talks about deforestation and the ecoclimate and it’s remarkable how modern the translation seems - Chekov was 100 years ahead of his time.

“Mark is exploring the idea of us using our own accents which immediately lends the play a modern feel. Though liberating, it’s always a tough ask to transport the audience to another place when you speak in your own voice.”

Ganly says one of the challenges of the role is living with the ragged beard he now sports, left over from the ‘London hipster beard’ he grew for his role as Burbage.

Another is to find the ‘everyman’ in Vanya, who, he says: “Is basically a man in his 40s having a breakdown” and adds: “He’s a man who decides that enough is enough but he’s witty and funny and though he does what he thinks is right he creates more chaos as he goes along.

“I’d challenge anyone to be able to say they haven’t had a crisis at some point in their life,” says Ganly. And although he didn’t go into any great detail about his own crises he cited the break up of his 10-year marriage as a contender.

Ganly trained at Trinity College, Dublin and worked in Ireland for six years before making the move to London with Martin McDonagh’s The Leenane Trilogy.

Once Uncle Vanya closes he will head off back to Ireland for three months for a role in the Sean O’Casey play Shadow of a Gunman.

Uncle Vanya is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from February 28 to March 21. Box office 0113 213 7700.