*Reviewers note: Press Night for this play was held on the same night as the playoff between Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday, which was being screened directly below the theatre and responded to by an extremely loud crowd. I have done the best I can to filter this from my response to the production as a reviewer. However, had I paid for my tickets I would have been having words with the venue.*
When reviewing a classic, there is little sense in critiquing the writing. There has been more than a century of far better thinkers than me examining in intricate detail every element of Chekhov’s thoughts, feelings and intentions and I have little to add. Uncle Vanya is a classic for a reason and the writing remains as sharp and relevant today as it has ever been. It raises questions about the relationship between city and country, bourgeoisie and peasant that feel horribly familiar to our divided nation.
This was my first experience with Chekhov (which at 47 and as an avid theatre goer is really remiss of me) and it was a well-performed if, at times a little staid. The director states that his intent was to reflect this work through the prism of the quarter-life crisis and have Vanya (Jonathan George), feel his life was over despite still being relatively young and with much ahead of him. I wasn’t quite sure this came through as strongly as intended (though I accept that may be the response of my old and jaded middle-aged perspective). For me the universality of the ‘wasted life’ theme of the play is something that can touch us at all ages.
Centred on a table in the living area of the country estate owned by the visiting elderly professor (David Whiting) and his glamorous, much younger second wife, Yelena (Clémentine Pinet). The play touches on the deference of the indentured and the desire for some to ingratiate themselves with those they consider their intellectual better while others reject that sense of inferiority.
The space is very small – made more so, by the decision to cut off about a third of the stage by curtain. This delivered a deliberate sense of suffocation which matched the theme of the drama well, but also just occasionally led to a sense of the cast falling over each other. Here and there, good directorial decisions were usurped by the reality of the available space.
Equally, the decision to blend into the action both at the beginning and after the interval had pluses and minuses. Dramatically, it conveyed well the sense of ongoing ennui the play evokes. But practically, it led to a slightly confused audience who didn’t really know when to rightfully shut up and watch the action unfold.
Overall, this was an enjoyable, but not exceptional production of a play I wish I had seen before.
- By Anton Chekhov, adapted by Cordelia Lynn
- Directed by Kieran Bourne
- Photo credit: Hansof Waller
- Starring Jonathan George, Adé Dee Haastrup, Clémentine Pinet, Faye Bennett
- Old Red Lion Theatre
- Until 14th of May 2022
- Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes