Thursday, 16 October 2014

Review: Uncle Vanya at the St James Theatre

Uncle Vanya
St James Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 15th October 2014

Six months ago I saw Andrei Konchalovsky's production of Uncle Vanya - which was performed in Russian - during a limited West End run. Although I'm very familiar with the play, last night marked the first time I actually saw Chekhov's play performed in English. 

We are able to revive these old classics time and time again as directors and playwrights/adaptors - like Russell Bolam and Anya Reiss - find new ways to re-examine and re-imagine them. Reiss' new adaptation of Uncle Vanya is said to "reignites the piece for a 21st century audience". 

Rebecca Night (Yelena) and Joe Dixon (Astrov)
Reiss must be praised for finding plenty of comedy in her new adaptation which is set in England. The pace is mostly strong; however, I didn't find myself lost in the text or particularly drawn to any of the characters. Bold risks have been taken, but not all of them pay off.

Uncle Vanya gets off to a slow start and isn't taken up a gear until Sonya (Amanda Hale) reveals her love for Astrov (Joe Dixon). However, Astrov ends up kissing Yelena who is married to Serebryakov. It seems everyone loves everyone apart from the person who loves them. 

The cast, led by John Hannah in the title role, are mostly strong. I forgave wondering accents and occasional dips in performances as the company portray some fantastic moments.  Janet Bird's simplistic design does its job and paves way for some entertaining, stylistic scene changes. Cast member Alan Francis also plays the guitar on several occasions, creating some nice moments. However, the overall style of the piece lacks consistency and could go further. 

Sometimes productions come along which are breathtakingly brilliant while others pop up which are disastrously dreadful; this production of Uncle Vanya is neither. Sitting somewhere in the middle, I wasn't blown away but I chuckled throughout and did find myself leaning forward on my chair during the act two drama. The tension is build superbly.  

Reiss must be commended for trying something different with such an iconic play. Although  the concept isn't as fine tuned as it could be, it's certainly interesting to see something new; I hope traditionalists won't be too horrified.

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Uncle Vanya runs at the St James Theatre until Saturday 8th November 2014.
Please visit for info and tickets.

Photo Credit: Simon Annand

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