Uncle Vanya: Anton Chekhov
St James Theatre,
London SW1E 5JA
7.30pm; mats Thurs & Sat, 2.30pm
Runs: 2hrs 30 mins with interval. To 08 11 14
TICKETS: 0844 264 2140 T.0844 264 21400844 264 2140
Review: by Carole Woddis of performance seen Oct 14, 2014:
A powerful mix of conflicting emotions
What does one hope for from a production of Uncle Vanya? A sense of a community thrust too closely together, claustrophobia, ennui. Above all, trapped, wasted lives.
Anya Reiss, widely acclaimed for her previous two Chekhov revisions, The Seagull and Three Sisters, has now turned her hand to Chekhov’s finest play. Reiss, already daubed with Most Promising Playwright garlands, writes that when she first read Chekhov she didn’t make much of him. A healthy scepticism perhaps. New generations have to remake life in their own image.
Reiss’s approach – from the two I’ve now seen – is to cut to the chase. She fillets, she re-situates but in so doing, sometimes forfeits sub-text and sense. In Three Sisters, the family were left stranded in an unspecified Middle East nomansland by the death of their diplomat father. Being contemporary, it was hard to imagine why they didn’t just get on the first plane back to Heathrow. But that’s dramatic license for you.
Uncle Vanya brings us closer home. The north of England, an isolated farming family fighting bankruptcy. Vanya is John Hannah (of Sliding Doors and more recently Spartacus fame). He makes a decidedly bitter and resentful estate manager, working his socks off for his brother-in-law, Jack Shepherd’s tetchy Prof, Serebryakov, with Rebecca Night’s younger, fatally alluring wife, Yelena in tow.
Vanyas stand and fall by Vanya and Sonya, his hard-working niece. This one – part of the St James’ estimable One Stage season showcasing new producers – is no exception. Amanda Hale is marvellous, luminous sincerity and awkward gushing love pouring out of her for Joe Dixon’s virile Astrov, the country doctor and prophetic environmentalist. Listen to him wax eloquent to Yelena about the decimation of the forest and its animals and it’s Jonathan Porritt in full flow.
This time Reiss has paid Chekhov the great compliment of retaining his spirit more closely whilst updating, for example, Yelena and Sonya’s relationship. Nice touch.
There are a few moments of directorial over-enthusiasm. But ultimately, this is a Vanya, rightly, of despair, and hope and love. Hard to forget Hale’s stifling tears and ultimate belief that better days will come.
By Anton Chekhov
In a new version by Anya Reiss
Marina: Amanda Boxer
Maria: Buffy Davis
Astrov: Joe Dixon
Telygin: Alan Francis
Sonya: Amanda Hale
Vanya: John Hannah
Yelena: Rebecca Night
Serebryakov: Jack Shepherd
Director: Russell Bolam
Set & Costume Designer: Janet Bird
Composer & Sound Designer: Isobel Waller Bridge
Lighting Designer: Johanna Town
Movement Director: Mark Bell
Casting Director: Hayley Kaimakliotis
Dialect Coach: Hugh O’Shea
Assistant Director: Blythe Stewart
Assistant Lighting Designer: Ellie Thompson
Producer: Emily Dobbs
Associate Producer: Annabel Topham
Presented by Emily Dobbs for Jagged Fence Productions in association with Peter Kane.
Part of One Stage Season
First perf of this production of Uncle Vanya, Oct 8, 2014.
See also: www.st.jamestheatre.co.uk;