Posted on 12 December 2018.

Posted in: Theatre Reviews


Uncle Vanya, Hampstead Theatre, review: It's Pure chekhov - despairing and comical 



'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.'

"In the name of God, I’m 47," Cox’s Vanya exclaims, as he builds to a peak of incredulous resentment that Robin Soans’s decrepit academic Serebriakov (his brother in law) has bagged such a beauty for his second wife (Abbey Lee’s Yeliena, a transfixing picture of regal ennui). “If I live to be 60, that’s another 13 years. I can’t do that. How am I going to survive...?” He looks appalled. It’s pure Chekhov – despairing and comical, an inversion of the habitual gratitude for more time that taps a different mortal dread.'

'His narrowed eyes at Serebriakov’s blasé proposal to sell-off the estate (rendering Vanya’s work in shreds, his prospects bleak) slice the air with silent venom. He explodes, he crumples, he wilts, rallies.'

'There’s subtlety like that across the board – Soans crushing Vanya with an added weight on the word "nonentity", Kika Markham bubbling like a samovar with misdirected maternal affection as Maryia, in snobbish thrall to her son-in-law’s academic reputation; June Watson bumbling delightfully as the babushka Marina, and David Shaw-Parker impressing as the pitifully cheery-minded hanger-on Telyeghin.'

'Schastlivogo Rozhdestva!'

To read the full review visit The Telegraph online here.

Uncle Vanya runs on the Main Stage until 12 January


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