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Review: Uncle Vanya, directed for the screen on the Harold Pinter stage - how does it compare?

Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre, starring Toby Jones, Richard Armitage, Eleanor Eleazar and Aimee Lou Wood, was one of the last plays I saw before theatres closed and it's safe to say I adored it. Which, considering me and Chekhov have a difficult relationship, is saying something. 

Uncle Vanya for screen
Uncle Vanya (c) Photography Seamus Ryan and Artwork Muse Creative Communications

So when it was announced that the cast was reuniting under Covid-safe conditions to re-perform the play on stage but this time directed for camera, I didn't hesitate to get a ticket to see it on the big screen.

But how did it compare to the original stage directed version?

Well, the first thing to say is that the only cast change for the filmed version was Roger Allam stepping in for Ciaran Hinds to play the professor. 

Allam is slightly less intimidating than Hinds but that didn't make any material difference.

As for the filming, without the constraints of a live audience, the piece felt less stagey and more like an actual film than the NT Live productions.

In fact, you quickly forgot you were watching something performed on stage - the only reminders were the doors through which the actors exited the stage. They are part of the theatre and therefore a more contemporary style to the rest of the set.

The benefits of the filmed performance were the close-ups which mean you get to experience the detail in the actors' performances, detail you would otherwise miss from the theatre seats unless you were close to the front.

And these are performances where so much is said without words, it is breathtaking to watch.

There are a handful of monologues which were performed directly to camera - again another plus for the filmed version not least because it feels like the actor is talking directly to you (and only you) which makes for a wonderfully intimate experience.

The only nod to the fact that this was something different was a brief montage before the start of the actors arriving for rehearsals and greeting each other -presumably seeing each other for the first time since March.

At the end there was a similar montage after the official end of the piece with the actors congratulating each other and saying goodbye.

It was subtly done but really effective.

You can read my review of the stage production here which explains why I liked it so much and it was a real treat to watch the heartbreak, the frustration, the resolve and resignation played out all over again.

Try and see it on the big screen if you can if not it is coming to the small screen via the BBC as part of its Art in Quarantine scheduling.

Related post:

Uncle Vanya is back