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Homecoming for Alan Ayckbourn’s Cumbrian-set Dear Uncle

Rachel Laurence and Georgina Ambrey. Photo Robert Day

The final Main House show of Theatre by the Lake’s 2019 Summer Season is in rehearsals – and one which could not be more fitting for the Lake District venue. Dear Uncle, Alan Ayckbourn’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, is set in 1930s Ennerdale; having been originally performed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, this is the second ever professional production of the play.

Originally commissioned for the West End, Ayckbourn directed the premiere production of Dear Uncle at the Stephen Joseph in 2011 where it was critically acclaimed and described by The Guardian as ‘the rambler’s version of Uncle Vanya’. Ayckbourn’s writing has frequently been compared to Chekhov’s – in particular, his navigation of the fine line between comedy and tragedy, and his exploration of both the pathos and farce of everyday life.

Alan Ayckbourn, who celebrated his 80th birthday this year, said: “I felt Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya would sit perfectly if set in a 1930s Lake District background. I’m very happy that my version, Dear Uncle, has finally come home to Theatre by the Lake.”

In Dear Uncle, 16 year old Sonya and Uncle Marcus are leading a quiet life with occasional visits from the dashing Dr Ash. But this summer is different.

Sonya’s elderly father Cedric has turned up with his glamorous new wife Helena. They think they might stay for a few weeks, and before long chaos has broken out…

Theatre by the Lake’s production is directed by Tom Littler, Artistic Director of Jermyn Street Theatre in London, who has directed several times at TBTL, including this spring’s productions of Creditors and Miss Julie, and Single Spies in Summer Season 2018. The cast includes Georgina Ambrey as Sonya, Dominic Gately as Marcus, Chris Porter as Dr Ash, Patrick Driver as Cedric and Asha Kingsley as Helena, alongside Rachel Laurence, Maggie O’Brien and Eric Potts.

Using members of the 2017 Summer Season company, Littler originally directed a reading of the play in 2017, in front of an audience of Friends of TBTL and volunteers. It went down an absolute storm, leading to the play being programmed for the 2019 Summer Season.

The production’s 1930s faded grandeur and Cumbrian country-house ambience is being created by designer Louie Whitemore, who has also designed The Ladykillers and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice in the 2019 Summer Season. The show also promises some spectacular period costumes.

“I’m so thrilled to stage Dear Uncle in the Lake District where it belongs”, said Littler. “Whether you’re a fan of Ayckbourn’s excruciatingly funny comedies, or of Chekhov’s dramas of missed opportunities and frustrated love, you’ll find Dear Uncle a dual delight. Alan is the master of social comedy and he has brilliantly adapted Chekhov’s masterpiece of longing and loneliness.”

Dear Uncle plays in Theatre by the Lake’s Main House from 1 August to 2 November. Tickets are from £10; for more information and to book tickets visit www.theatrebythelake.com or call the Box Office on 017687 74411.

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