On paper this production of Uncle Vanya, translated by Christopher Hampton, should be excellent. Lindsay Posner directing the stellar cast of Ken Stott, Anna Friel and Samuel West and Christopher Oram designing was, in my view, a must see. So, it’s odd that I left the theatre last week feeling, to a large extent, unmoved.
Ken Stott is his usual watchable self as Vanya and conveys very well his frustrations at his unrequited love for Anna Friel’s Yelena. She, in turn, makes a very beautiful, doll-like Yelena and expertly captures her own frustrations at being married to the much older Serebryakov. The male eye candy of the piece, Doctor Astrov, is a wonderfully brooding, dashing Samuel West, who is emotionally scarred. The only thing capable of eliciting his passion is the subject of trees! Yes, he fancies Yelina but doesn’t care about her and is totally dismissive of the lovelorn Sonya. Her fate is that of Vanya, a life filled with regret at what could have been. Laura Carmichael plays her adequately enough, although her whiney voice does grate after a while.
This is a witty version of one of Chekhov’s most famous plays and it does have its moments. What doesn’t help raise it to more than a capable production are the long scene changes. A bus can be driven through the end of Act I and beginning of Act II. The curtain stayed down for so long the night I went that we, the audience, were palpably embarrassed, especially on realising that the long wait isn’t actually worth it. One exquisitely aged and distressed setting in the Russian dacha has been replaced by another one.
I’m glad I’ve seen this version of Chekhov’s story of regrets, resentment and lost dreams, but, surprisingly it doesn’t bring anything new. Competent but nothing more.