“Damn this old age, it’s so vile and repulsive”
Revivals of classics often find themselves caught between two schools: revitalising an oft-performed play with a fresh energy, but remaining aware of not rocking the boat too much in order to maintain a healthy (West End in this case) audience. The Print Room – a venue perhaps less burdened by quite the same commercial concerns as West End houses – were able to go whole-heartedly for the former with a scorchingly good version of Uncle Vanya which paid huge dividends. And Lindsay Posner has definitely gone for the latter option with a stolidly traditional production at the Vaudeville Theatre which does the job but rarely excited me in a similar way.
It is undoubtedly well acted, very much so in some quarters, but the performances are overpowered by the stultifying pace of a production that never really got out of second gear. The demonstration of how boring country life can be should never relate to the play itself but Posner has taken Chekhov too literally here and so far too little of the emotional energy being expended by the actors is allowed to take flight on the stage. Instead, the dominant aspect becomes Christopher Oram’s design and the interminably long pauses it enforces during lengthy scene changes which hardly feel worth the effort in the final analysis.
It’s a real shame as Samuel West’s Astrov, blessed with foresight as far as environmental issues are concerned but blinkered to the niceties of human interaction, is compelling in his deep tragedy as Laura Carmichael’s Sonya sits patiently, doomed to love unrequitedly from the sidelines. And Anna Friel brings an unexpected depth to Yelena, married off to Paul Freeman’s cantankerous much-older Serebryakov and fending off the attentions of Ken Stott’s titular Vanya.
But I have to admit to being a little disappointed by Stott, so utterly disillusioned with his lot that there’s little else to him, no sense of the tragedy of a life lost to the ether – one can’t imagine this Vanya ever having the potential to achieve much. And with it, the hopes of the production tread a similarly uninspired path.