A GREAT sense of foreboding is created as the storm clouds gather in Peter Gill's new adaptation of Chekhov's classic.
Though originally written, and set, in 1898 — at a time of huge social, economic and political upheaval in Russia — the play is remarkably modern, especially on issues such as the environment and the oppression of women.
A speech about saving trees is a scorching indictment of forestry destruction - and particularly relevant as tree protesters do battle with Sheffield councillors.
Frustration, boredom, guilt and unrequitted love all come to the surface in Gill's reworking of the tragi-comedy, which stays faithful to Chekhov.
But the main theme is of the “little people” who sacrifice their own lives for the greater good only to find it was all wasted.
They are like extras in somebody else’s film. And that somebody has all the wealth and privileges their hard work made possible.
Self-obsessed and autocratic writer Serebryakov has returned to the remote Ukrainian farm which his daughter Sonya inherited from his dead first wife with his new attractive younger spouse Elena.
For years, Sonya and her uncle, Vanya, have been toiling to fund Serebryakov's academic career.
They run the farm with help from a handful of old retainers. Vanya's ageing mother, who for some reason holds Serebryakov in high esteem, keeps a close watch.
Resentment and frustration come to a head when Serebryakov announces he plans to sell the farm to pay for his retirement, abandoning Vanya, Sonya and the rest to penury.
The heartache is added to by country doctor Astrov, who is the object of attraction for both Sonya and Elena.
At the centre of the play is the relationship between Vanya and Astrov, which is projected on to their passion for Elena.
The staging, in the round with a minimal set, gives it an intimate feel — made even more so when the characters speak directly to the audience.
Jamie Ballard, funny and moving, is a compelling Vanya, a man all at sea with his emotions drowning in self pity for a wasted life and unfulfilled passion.
“I have not lived,” he says.
Oliver Dimsdale perfectly captures the romantic idealism of heavy drinking Astrov who is trapped in a world that won't allow the space to breathe.
Rosie Sheehy is outstanding as Sonya, heartbreakingly moving as the comes to terms with realising that life must go on despite her bitter experiences.
Shanaya Rafaat is convincing as Elena, a woman who knows her limitations but determines to try and change, although she is ultimately left to ponder what might have been.
Martin Turner, looking to me a bit like the late, great Harry Dean Stanton, plays the pompous Serebryakov to great comic effect, while there’s plenty of good support from Brendan Charleson, as the sad but dignified Telyegin, plus Sharon Morgan as Mariya, Veronica Roberts as Marina and Sian Owens as Efimia.