The English Touring Theatre's production of Uncle Vanya launches the first season at the new Rose Theatre in Kingston.
The original Rose was in Bankside where the remains lie under an office building in Park Street. The street name reminds us that when the the partly wooden building was erected in 1587 it stood in the Bishop of Winchester's large riverside parkland.
Travelling to and from Winchester, the bishop and his staff would stay overnight in Kington-upon-Thames which was a day's ride or boat journey from Southwark. Now in Kingston's crowded High Street, near the Bishop's Hall site, is the new £11 million modern Rose closely modelled on the original Bankside playhouse and built thanks to an extraordinary redevelopment planning deal.
Sir Peter Hall, more familiar with the South Bank, was persuaded to support the vision of a new covered Rose about fifteen years ago and now in this space he directs Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya presented by the Waterloo-based English Touring Theatre company. A star-studded first night audience, which included film-maker Mike Leigh, saw a star cast.
Nicholas Le Prevost is the depressed Vanya and Ronald Pickup plays Serebryakov as a mad professor. A surprise is a bearded Neil Pearson as the doctor Astrov.
Michelle Dockery as the beautiful Yelena appears as if she has just stepped off a Quality Street tin. The attractive Loo Brealey, known for roles in televison's Bleak House and Casulty, makes herself look suitably plain to be the earnest and practical family member Sonya.
This production, although not able to exploit Elizabethan-style galleries, brings an often heavy-going Chekov alive. It gripped and amused the critical audience enough to win several 'curtain calls'.
The open stage serves well as a Russian dacha but the big test will come in April with Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.
Although I sat at the back of the stalls I had a clear view of the stage which felt close. Those in the upper circle, where seats are just £5, claimed to be able to hear clearly. But if you want to be very close you must bring a cushion and sit in the pit.
• Uncle Vanya is at the Rose Theatre Kingston until 9 February.
For the latest local news and events direct to your inbox every Monday, you need our weekly email newsletter SE1 Direct.
7,000+ locals read it every week. Can you afford to miss out?
Read the latest issue before signing up