Chekov; one of the giants of early modernism and perhaps one of the most famous Russian playwrights. The highly anticipated adaptation by Olivier Award-winner Conor McPherson of Uncle Vanya has now arrived, and it does not disappoint. I’d not seen Uncle Vanya before, or any Chekov for that matter, and was wrongly expecting something that feels old or perhaps a little bit dated, but this could’ve been written yesterday. Ian Rickson’s production combines McPherson’s perfectly balanced writing and a stellar cast, which makes for a heart-breaking production.
Toby Jones is, as everyone says, brilliant as Vanya. He flicks between a witty, tired, funny man, to a lovesick, forlorn, sensitive creature who’s tragically in love with someone who doesn’t love him back. This is reflected in Sonya, played by Aimee Lou Wood, who has some devastating moments with her very own unrequited love, Richard Armitage’s Dr Astrov, that send a wince rippling through the audience. Wood gives her such a tenderness, a deer in the headlights sort of attitude, but ultimately a resilient core and admirable outlook. She, for me, delivers the stand-out performance of the night, with just the right mix of strength, sensitivity, and unwavering kindness – despite the gut-wrenching rejections she endures.
Ciarán Hinds is suitably narcissistic and infuriatingly ignorant as the Professor, while Rosalind Eleazar plays Yelena, his young, miserable wife with grace and sadness. Unfortunately, I find both she and the Doctor extremely hard to empathise with, as they spurn Sonya and Vanya respectively and break their hearts, so I hate them both by default (but that’s by the by).
Rae Smith‘s design is, unsurprisingly, bloody gorgeous. The scale of the room is marvellous, with high ceilings and tarnished mirrors signifying the former glory of the now dilapidated estate. Gorgeous floor-length windows let in Bruno Poet’s faux natural light, and trees and greenery creep their way into the home, shedding yellow leaves as the seasons change. Every detail, besides some peculiarly modern-looking fire extinguishers, adds up to make the perfect stage for the talented cast to pace through this updated version of Chekov’s story of wasted love and wasted lives.
After the Christmas holidays, we might be reflecting on cross words said or particular raging dislikes for certain family members. Uncle Vanya reminds us that no matter how bad our families might have been, we’ve never chased our brother-in-law through the house with a gun. I hope. Rickson’s production, with its first-rate cast and delicately altered script, offer up a fantastic version of this well-loved classic.
Uncle Vanya is playing the Harold Pinter Theatre until 2 May. For more information, visit the ATG Tickets website.