James McAvoy and Hayley Atwell take to the Donmar stage for an afternoon of tragedy
Review: Our Boys and why some plays need updating

Review: Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville

Nc-Uncle Vanya-639_Anna Friel (Yelena) and Ken Stott (Vanya) Credit Nobby ClarkI do hope the Lindsay Posner directed production of Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre does well. There were quite a few empty seats at this afternoons matinee and the ushers were moving people forward.

As the lady behind me in the day seat queue* this morning said: "At the moment people want something frothy, not thought-provoking."

It is a shame if that does prove to be the case because this is a particularly strong production of Chekhov's tragedy of wasted lives.

I have a love/hate relationship with Chekhov. When the mood takes me, his characters can appear as merely middle-class whingers unprepared to do anything to better their lot. It is a harsh criticism, I know, but on my more sympathetic days I can appreciate how human the tragedy of inaction is.

Uncle Vanya succeeds for me not only because I was in a sympathetic mood but also because at least the characters make some vain attempt at action rather than just moaning. Yes Vanya (Ken Stott) and Astrov (Samuel West) muse on what they perceive to be their wasted and boring lives but they still make one last ditch attempt at happiness even if it almost certainly doomed to fail.

The central female characters, while wrapped in their own tragedy - mainly that of being women in a man's world - offer a sort of moral if not emotional counter point. Sonya (Laura Carmichael) is in love with Astrov but is stoic in his obvious uninterest. She doesn't resort to hysterics or near tragic actions like her Uncle Vanya.

Yelena (Anna Friel) the beautiful young wife of sick, demanding and uppity retired professor Serbryakov (Paul Freeman) is the object of Vanya and Astrov's affections but is fiercely loyal and dutiful to her husband when everyone around her thinks she is wasting her youth on him.

There is no suicide in Uncle Vanya and the only sense of an era coming to end is in the form of an environmental message that is as pertinent today as is was back then, namely man's destruction of his environment, in this case de-forestation.

Uncle Vanya is about what it means to live and what mark you leave when you're gone.

It is a traditional production in dress and setting - a relief to those who hated the Young Vic's contemporary take on Three Sisters recently. And, it is stunningly performed by the cast. Ken Stott once again is a highlight for me giving a particularly raw performance. His Vanya wears his emotions on his sleeve, going puce with rage, shaking with frustration at times while at others wearing looks of such tenderness and eyes sparkling with tears. It is certainly worth parting with cash to see but not if you want something cheery.

Uncle Vanya runs at the Vaudeville Theatre until 16 February.

* There are 10 day seats available for £10 each, one per person. The seats are unsually on the third row so you aren't pressed up against the stage on the front row which is usually the case with day seats. I turned up ten minutes before the box office was due to open (10 am) and was fifth in the queue.

Production shot: Nobby Clark


In honour of Skyfall having recently been released: Ken Stott was in God of Carnage with Ralph Fiennes who of course is in the new Bond with Mr W.