Uncle Vanya – March 2012

7/10

By Anton Chekov, translated by Michael Frayn

Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Friday 30th March 2012

Pretty impressive for the first preview performance. Overall I would say this is a balanced production, giving us plenty of humour along with an understanding of the characters.

The set was expansive (for the Minerva) and detailed. A wall of windows along the back of the stage had a couple of doors in it. Trees were visible through the windows, and there were several dotted around the stage as well, with one right up against the seats over on the left side. [From the post-show in April, one woman would happily have chopped it down!]  The first scene is set outside, so there was a large table with chairs, the samovar on a table over on the right at the back with a couple of chairs, and not much else.

The set changes took a long time, but the results were effective. The dining room had a carpet, the main table and chairs plus some others, and ceiling lamps were lowered as well. The drawing room was much the same, but had an extra carpet and a chaise longue, while Vanya’s room had a small table for the doctor’s stuff and lots of paperwork was laid out on the main table for Sonya and Vanya to work on. The costumes were all fine, and Yelena had a new outfit for every scene, as befitted her role of trophy wife.

There were a few problems tonight. I couldn’t always make out the doctor’s dialogue, although everyone else seemed pretty clear. I would have cast Sonya and Yelena the other way round, as Dervla Kirwan (Sonya) is much better looking than any other Sonya I’ve seen, and Lara Pulver didn’t radiate the glamour required for a Yelena – this may come with time. Timothy West stumbled a bit over his lines in the third act, a bit more than we can allow for an elderly character, but again this should improve with time.

During the second act, when Sonya interrupted Vanya, Astrov and Telegin singing their rowdy song I was reminded of Twelfth Night, and the similarity was very strong in this performance. Throughout the play I felt the characters were each living in their own universe, with little or no contact between them, and although this is a valid way to present these people, it doesn’t help me to engage with them as much as I’d like to. I found myself wondering if Chekov’s five plays are perhaps done too often, given that there isn’t the same scope to reinterpret them as there is with Shakespeare’s work, and he wrote over thirty plays! I certainly didn’t feel I was discovering anything new from tonight’s offering although it was enjoyable, and it will be interesting to see how the production comes on when we see it again in April.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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