Chekhov's Uncle Vanya - 'Vanya' - adapted by Simon Stephens and starring Andrew Scott playing all the characters? Well, of course, I had to buy a ticket, it's ANDREW SCOTT, but I was equally curious about the concept and what it would add to the play.
I've seen a few productions and am familiar with the story. Note: If you are not, it's worth glancing over a plot summary in prep, but more on that later.
Chatting to the woman sitting next to me, she had never seen a production before and asked if it was a comedy. "It depends on how it's done", was my reply. Chekhov's plays can be funny.
I followed up with: "Are you familiar with classic Russian literature? Tragedy of inaction, that sort of thing?"
"Yes, love that", was her reply.
Vanya is part unrequited love story, part exploration of a life's purpose. It's about those toiling away on a rural estate to support the 'genius' professor who came into possession of it via his first marriage.
His daughter Sonia, brother-in-law Vanya and mother-in-law work hard to generate funds for his city life. When he visits with his new young wife, Helena, it throws the estate in turmoil.
Simon Stephen's adaptation sees a more naturalistic and modern dialogue. The setting is transported to Ireland, which allows Scott to use his natural accent.
Scott draws out the humour with his delivery, giving Vanya's mother, Marie, a gossipy tone and Ilya a deadpan delivery. The latter becomes a running joke, always being there but no one noticing until random remarks are made.
Ivan (Vanya) plays with a sound effects device, adding irony, sarcasm and sometimes pathos to his words.
It is undoubtedly a skilled performance, switching between the characters, using slightly different accents, delivery, pace or a prop to distinguish between each.
But you have to pay very close attention. Even though I was familiar with the play, I got a little confused about which character was speaking, and it wasn't always easy to follow where we were in the story.
The woman I had chatted to admitted at the end that she hadn't always been sure what was going on.
And this a problem. Who says what is an important emotional driver for the play.
While having Scott the focus of attention for the entire play isn't a hardship, I did find myself wishing to see interaction with other actors and imagining what that would bring.
I found myself mentally overlaying key scenes from the last production of Uncle Vanya I saw with Toby Jones, Richard Armitage and Aimee Lou Wood.
And I couldn't help thinking that it is a shame to deny actresses the opportunity to play Sonia and Helena.
Which leads to the question, what does having one actor play all the parts bring to the story?
It showcases Scott's talent, but more than that, I'm not sure, which makes it feel like a bit of an indulgence. (Or extra profit for ATG?)
I loved the script and the set, which was a mixture of naturalistic and abstract, and I can admire the performance, but I'd like to see it with a cast of more than one.
Tricky one to rate as aspects are ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ but others are ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Vanya, Richmond Theatre
Adapted by Simon Stephens
Directed by Sam Yates
Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes without an interval.
Review: Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre with Toby Jones, Richard Armitage and Aimee Lou Wood.
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