'What’s that beautiful Yeats line – “gather me/ into the artifice of eternity”? It’s hard not to think of it when watching Uncle Vanya.
There is talk of God on Professor Serebriakov’s estate in the middle of lord-knows-where. "What we forget, God remembers," warmly advises the old nurse Marina at the start to careworn doctor Astrov as he shudders at thoughts of signal-man who died on his operating table and wonders whether the future will glance back at their struggles. The woman who yearns for Astrov, Vanya’s niece Sonia, affirms her faith that, through self-denying toil, a divine reward lies in wait: "We shall hear the angels sing," as Terry Johnson’s new version at Hampstead puts it.
As played by Alice Bailey Johnson (daughter of the playwright-director, yet also spot-on in the role), Sonia makes these famous last words ring with conviction. Yet something in Alan Cox’s disbelieving eyes as Vanya, and it’s not just the suggestion of tears, lets slip the implication that celestial salvation is a construct.'