Review – Uncle Vanya, Vaudeville Theatre

Monday 10 December 2012

2FD3906FA-A79B-C40C-94BEB5689D5F33BBOh dear, oh dear. We shouldn’t really be surprised but the Whingers seem to be of an age.

We had always taken Uncle Vanya to be a character for the almost-elderly –  one of the last big actorly stops before King Lear.

But Vanya is practically a child. In Lindsay Posner‘s new production (translation by Christopher Hampton) they have even aged him up six years (to edge a little closer to the actor Ken Stott‘s actual age). This is what you get for reading up on things. It was all a bit traumatic and without being too specific, let’s just say that it won’t be long before the Whingers are perceiving Lear as some kind of callow youth too. It’s all rather depressing.

And so is Chekhov‘s play. Perhaps it’s too close to our respective old bones? Vanya moans about life passing him by, but then most of the characters here seem to be suffering from disillusionment, disappointment and boredom. The Whingers would buy Vanya a drink to cheer him up but he’d probably turn us down as he grumps “drinking wine, it’s so unhealthy”. The man is beyond help.

You might think sobriety would make him a bit more realistic. He has a thing for the bored but beautiful Yelena (Anna Friel) but she is married to the elderly Serebryakov (Paul Freeman) so perhaps it’s slightly more understandable why he might think he’s in with a chance. Then there’s Sonya who we’re told is “plain” (The Whingers don’t think Downton‘s Laura Carmichael is plain at all). She is rather taken by one Doctor Astrov (Samuel West, the artist formerly known as Sam) but he’s more interested in Yelena and deforestation and – remarkably for a doctor – seems unaware of Vanya’s drinkaware campaign.

Phil saw UV so long ago (with Michael Gambon as Vanya) but he couldn’t remember what happens, which as it turns out initially is very little. Phil overheard a couple at the interval discussing it “Do you think anything is going to happen?” “No I think it’s one of those plays in which nothing happens” was the reply.

But actually quite a lot does happen in Act 2 which we won’t spoil in case, like Andrew, you are giving up your Vanya virginity. There are even a few much-needed laughs.

We don’t really know why we should be surprised by Friel’s excellently subtle performance as we’ve never seen her on stage before but we were. And she has an even finer line in displaying ennui than Andrew. And if we say that Carmichael’s Sonya is painful to watch we mean it in a good way. Heck, they’re all good.

Astrov’s interest in the environment seems so way ahead of its time you can almost hear the clink of his empty vodka bottles hitting the recycling bin, which would almost certainly be a bin crafted from a clapped-out samovar.

June Watson fills the traditional Chekhovian family retainer role splendidly. We’d retain her any day. And it’s always good to see Anna Carteret on stage. We remember when everyone had a Juliet Bravo credit in their programme CVs but she can use hers with particular pride but we won’t fall in the trap of saying she was Juliet Bravo; as we were quite rightly corrected the last time the topic came up, she played DI Kate Longton.

It’s all done and dusted in under two and a half hours (UV-lite?) which is commendable but would be even shorter if Christopher Oram‘s sets didn’t take so long to change (the changes reminded Phil of being at the Biograph and he should know) and it’s rather lavish with four different sets and lots of costume changes. Phil went all pompous and decided that the on stage groupings under Paul Pyant’s lighting had a “painterly” quality.

But even more strangely Phil had a very peculiar moment watching Mark Hadfield who plays Telyegin. Something about him in Phil’s “trivial opinion” (see quote at top of page under the logo) reminded him of theatre critic Michael Coveney.

So, all very solid. What it really needed, we felt, was a bolder hand than Mr Hampton brought to it. Perhaps, for example, they could have taken a leaf out of the Donmar’s book and applied some audacious gender reassignment to the roles – Auntie Vanya! Perhaps peppered up with a few Jerry Herman numbers? Then we think they’d really be on to something.



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