Hampstead Theatre Winter 2018-2019
is a good Uncle Vanya, perhaps a very good one. If it is not a great
Uncle Vanya, that might be too much to ask for.
Chekhov's genius was his ability to show us the little lives and
little tragedies of little people and make us see that those lives
and tragedies were big to them.
good production makes us overcome
our preliminary dismissal of these people as small and sympathise
with their real-to-them pains. A great production makes us feel that
those tragedies are in fact greater than we first thought, shaking us
as well as the characters.
decades ago Michael Gambon played a
Vanya who came face to face with his own total irrelevance to the
world, and sixteen years ago Simon Russell Beale made us watch a man
realise that he would never ever be loved.
Terry Johnson's new
adaptation and production, Alan Cox plays a Vanya who has some bad
experiences and is left unhappy by them. We sympathise, but we do not
feel the full force of his pain with him.
and his niece Sonia
run the family estate for Sonia's father, a Moscow professor. But a
visit from the professor shows him a vain, empty, unappreciative
egotist not worthy of their sacrifices, while his beautiful new wife
Yeliena can only express mild annoyance when Vanya falls in love with
her. Meanwhile Astrov, the local doctor, also falls for Yeliena,
blind to the fact that Sonia loves him.
Alan Cox plays him, Vanya
is a man who rather enjoys grumbling about his life only to realise
painfully that he actually is as unhappy as he has been claiming to
shock almost breaks him, but not in a way that we can do more
than sympathise with from a safe distance, and there is just enough
of a hint of getting-what-he-deserves to distance us further.
women are played stronger than usual here, with good effect. Alice
Bailey Johnson's Sonia doesn't just mope around as too many Sonias
do. She clearly wears the trousers in this family, bullying the men
and fighting admirably to retain some dignity in despair.
takes all the opportunities the script allows her to show that
Yeliena is at least aware of her own shallowness and feels some guilt
for it, but gives too little indication of how and why she is attracted
to Astrov. Robin Soans seems unsure whether to play the professor as
villain or just sad old man.
Newman is a particular
disappointment as Astrov who, aside from being Vanya's rival for
Yeliena's love, is the obligatory the-future-will-be-better idealist
who appears in all Chekhov's plays.
scene in which he shows
Yeliena his maps of the region and fears for the vanishing forests
should be driven by the intensity of his passion for his subject,
which then mutates into a sexual energy between them. But here the
focus of the scene is on her boredom, and he sinks into just some nut
nattering on about his private obsessions.
I've seen worse Uncle Vanyas that couldn't even generate any respect or concern for the characters. But by inspiring pity and little more, this one stops short of greatness.
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Review - Uncle Vanya - Hampstead Theatre 2018