Uncle Vanya is one of those familiar-seeming plays that I’ve always felt you should have seen, or at the very least read, so I’m surprised it’s taken me quite so long to actually get myself into a theatre to see it. When I saw the advertisements for the Vaudeville Theatre’s production starring Anna Friel I knew I just had to see it; I had seen Friel in Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s at the Haymarket Theatre and she was a sensation.
Those who know anything about the play will know that it is far from a happy one. We, as humans, do what we can to keep our lives full and happy, which in modern-day means we’re often jumping from job to job, moving from one rented house to another, going on holidays, exchanging one lover for another. But what would we do if we couldn’t do any of those things? What if we were to have the same house, the same job, the same partner (if we have one at all) for our whole adult lives and then one day we look back and wonder what it was all for? Uncle Vanya is a play that really wallows in that misery.
The play by Anton Chekhov focus on an elderly Professor (Paul Freeman) and his desirable and much younger second wife, Yelena (Anna Friel) who come to visit the rural estate run by the Professor daughter from his first marriage, Sonya (Laura Carmichael), and her uncle, Vanya (Ken Stott). Both Vanya and the local Doctor, Astrov (Samuel West), fall in love with Yelena, but they share more than just their love, they are also both desperately dissatisfied with their lives. Sonya, who has worked aside Vanya in the running of the estate, also suffers from her own ‘plainness’ and her unrequited love for Dr Astrov. The plays comes to a boiling point when the Professor tells of his plans to sell the estate, Vanya and Sonya’s home, so that he can invest to make more money for himself and Yelena.
The entire cast seems perfectly suited to their characters. Ken Stott (Messiah, The Vice, Rebus and One Day, Hancock & Joan) is well-known for playing disheartened, often Scrooge-like characters both on-stage and on-screen, so it’s no surprise that he steals the show with his portrayal of the melancholy Uncle Vanya. Anna Friel was superb as Yelena; feelings of claustrophobia came off of her in waves and her battle between wrong and right when it came to the choice between the Professor, Dr Astrov and, to some degree, Sonya seemed completely genuine – so much so that I almost forgot it was a play. Laura Carmichael, known for her character of Lady Edith in Downton Abbey, once again plays the ‘plain’ girl (The poor girl must surely be starting to develop a complex). Her acting is raw and genuine, undoubtedly one of the star performances of the show.
The set design is a massive achievement for Christopher Oram. The ominous sets are the perfect backdrop to the heavy subject matter. I could not imagine a more perfectly suited set. The details and quite set changes really are testament to Oram’s hard work.
Naturally, one cannot help but feel a little disjointed and down after this play – unless of course you revel in the deeply depressing – but it also acts as a kind of ‘schadenfreude’; making you relieved that you aren’t part of this gloomy group. Whilst it is truly a dark play, it is also very comedic and you will find yourselves snorting and laughing out loud in almost every scene. A real achievement for Christopher Hampton.
Until 26th January 2013
For more information visit www.unclevanyatheplay.com