Friday, 24 October 2014

Theatre review: Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya is Anya Reiss' third Chekhov adaptation with Russell Bolam at the helm, and hopefully that'll let her view it as a trilogy and return to her own original plays, which in the past have been rather good. (Although here's a fun game, see if you can spot the bit on the website where it actually says this was written by Anton Chekhov. It's there somewhere. Like Wally.) This is one of the Chekhov plays I've seen less often, and I've yet to see a production that convinced me of its greatness. Spoiler alert, but this production didn't either. John Hannah plays the titular Vanya, who's spent most of his life taking care of the farm owned by his late sister, and now passed on to her widower, the elderly academic Serebryakov (Jack Shepherd.) The latter has now retired and come back to the farm with his new young wife Yelena (Rebecca Night,) where he's not entirely welcome.

Vanya's mopey disposition isn't made any better by the fact he's fallen in love with Yelena, while Serebryakov's daughter Sonya (Amanda Hale) is also hopelessly in love with the eccentric, alcoholic doctor Astrov (Joe Dixon.)

As ever, Reiss' adaptation relocates the play; apparently this time it's to Lincolnshire, although I needed to check that with the playtext because if the accents are to be believed the farm teleports, usually mid-sentence, from Cornwall to Lancashire, to Scotland, Ireland (both North and South,) Wales, the East End of London, and Amanda Boxer even manages to fly it to Alabama a couple of times. Dodgy accents aren't exactly rare of course, but I can't think when I last heard so many good actors flounder.

Maybe it's because he doesn't even attempt to do the accent, opting instead for his best Brian Blessed, that Joe Dixon steals the first two acts. His comedy stylings are rather broad to say the least but at least they bring a bit of life to proceedings.

And there's a few moments that hint at the production capturing the depths underneath the surface, like Sonya's doomed attempt to get Astrov to even notice she's there. But for the most part this is quite a lifeless evening.

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in a version by Anya Reiss is booking until the 8th of November at the St James Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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