CFT celebrations return to first play

Uncle Vanya is being performed at Chichester Festival Theatre from March 30 until April 28. Credit Johan Persson.
Uncle Vanya is being performed at Chichester Festival Theatre from March 30 until April 28. Credit Johan Persson.
Nadia Albina and John Kelly in Reasons To Be Cheerful.  Picture by  Patrick Baldwin

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There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Chichester Festival Theatre’s 50th season as the theatre has gone to big lengths to celebrate its landmark birthday.

The first in its line-up of productions is Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, the first play ever performed at the ‘impossible theatre.’

The lead was taken by the theatre’s first and iconic artistic director. Sir Laurence Olivier. Now CFT is performing it again in recognition of its beginnings.

With rehearsals in full swing, the production is littered with famous faces as it stars Roger Allam in the title role, Timothy West as Professor Serebryakov, Alexander Hanson as Astrov, Lara Pulver as Yelena, and Dervla Kirwan as Vanya’s neice, Sonya.

The return of Vanya’s brother-in-law and his captivating wife to Vanya’s estate, coupled with the visits of the charismatic Doctor Astrov, bring loyalties and loves into the frame.

Speaking on her lunch break at the theatre, Dervla Kirwan says: ‘I love Chekhov. I’ve wanted to do a Chekhov for about 20 years and I had a chat with Jonathan Church about wanting to work with Chichester because I think what he’s doing is very exciting.’

Dervla plays Sonya, Uncle Vanya’s neice who’s in love with Astrov.

She says: ‘She’s just an exceptional individual. She always sacrafices her emotional state to try and help others. I think it’s wonderful that Chekhov 100 years ago was writing about the necessity to accept and have imagination in life.

‘In those circumstances it’s about accepting time, and to keep going no matter what life gives you, which is a very big order nowadays.’

Derlva herself has appearing in countless TV and theatre productions, and is well-known for her roles in Ballykissangel, Goodnight Sweetheart, and among others has appeared in Doctor Who, Agatha Christie’s Marple, and BBC drama The Silence.

But Dervla’s still humbled by the amount of acting talent she’s going to perform with.

She says: ‘It’s really nice to see, and very humbling. I love coming to work and I’m very grateful to be doing it.’

It’s not too far to travel for Dervla, as she lives in the Meon Valley with her actor husband Rupert Penry-Jones.

She adds: ‘It’s lovely to be able to go home but it’s still work at the end of the day!’

Dervla’s recently finished working with Christopher Eccleston on a thriller for the BBC, The Fuse.

She says: ‘We worked together years ago and we sort of managed to do this project. I’ve no idea what it’s going to be like it but certainly read very well. But who knows what’s next, it’s out of my control!’

Tickets cost £23.50 to £29.50 from Chichester Festival Theatre on (01243) 781312 or go to cft.org.uk.