Harold Pinter Theatre, London
Director: Ian Rickson
Cast: Richard Armitage, Toby Jones, Aimee Lou Wood, Rosalind Eleazar, Ciaran Hinds, Dearbhla Molloy, Peter Wight and Anna Calder-Marshall
Uncle Vanya is a play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, first published in 1898, which explores the disruption and discontent of a small group of people in rural turn of the century Russia. Director Ian Rickson and Irish playwright Conor McPherson have brought this nineteenth century Russian play to London’s West End with a great deal of humour, melancholy and emotion.
Vanya (Toby Jones) spends his time idling around the country estate he has lived his whole life, making money for his brother-in-law Serebryakov (Ciaran Hinds), a retired professor who has been living at the estate for the past 20 years writing papers on a myriad of scholarly topics. The professor – whose first wife was Vanya’s sister (now dead) – has moved on to a younger and beautiful woman by the name of Yelena (Rosalind Eleazar). She attracts the attention and affection of Vanya and also Doctor Astrov (Richard Armitage), who is summoned many times by the professor to tend to a catalogue of imagined aches and pains. Astrov becomes infatuated with her at the same time that he remains oblivious to the fact that Serebryakov’s daughter, Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood), yearns for him.
There is plenty of humour, despite the situations that the characters find themselves in, which surprised me a little as I was expecting something more sombre. Jones’ Vanya is the pick of the bunch in terms of the comic relief, and his character more than needs it. He talks about “wanging on” and “stuffing my face with snacks” to much laughter, but these comments highlight the sort of mid-life crisis he finds himself in.
The funniest scene has to be the drinking scene where Vanya is joined by Armitage’s disillusioned doctor Astrov and the old hanger-on Telegin (Peter Wight). Vanya ends up crawling under a sideboard in search of fresh supplies while repeating the word “Alwight” – my highlight, and it seems for many, there’s too.
I’d also like to highlight the excellent acting of Armitage and Wood, who were both excellent in their respective roles. Astrov’s passion for the forest was palpable, reinforced by Sonya who was enraptured at every speech that he made about the forest, wildlife and maps. The pair of them had some lovely moments, but there was always the sense that things just wouldn’t work out how Sonya hopes for. Armitage was brilliant in particularly when conveying Astrov’s passions, but he was equally adept at vocalising his troubles. It was a very believable performance.
Uncle Vanya is a play where, at times, it felt like it was a lot of people sitting around and moaning and wasting their lives, but as the story progresses through the different acts, it becomes more of a drama about missed chances. A profound and comic play, it is definitely one to watch out for London visitors.
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