Review: Vanya, Duke of York’s Theatre

Andrew Scott takes on every role in Vanya at the Duke of York’s Theatre but it’s not abundantly clear if it is worth it

“The existence is tedious, anyway”

Immediately post-lockdown, we expected that productions would be smaller – remember that one of the first shows back was a monologue – but it seems that it took a cost of living crisis to really shrink things down (apart from ticket prices). Sarah Snook will take on every role in a solo Dorian Gray at the Theatre Royal Haymarket early next year and opening now at the Duke of York’s Theatre after a brief sojourn in Richmond, Andrew Scott is taking the same approach to a one-man Vanya, after Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.

Credited to co-creators Scott, Simon Stephens (adapter), Sam Yates (director) and Rosanna Vize (designer), this Vanya is relocated to Ireland and an undetermined more modern setting (it is Simon Stephens after all…). And from the moment he’s toying with the light switch and indeed with us the audience, it is clear that there’s a rich vein of potential, not least in Scott’s return to the stage after something like four years. Big warning though, advance knowledge of Uncle Vanya will help you immeasurably.

As a theatrical experiment, this is undoubtedly an impressive endeavour. Scott fully inhabits the mournful world of the play from beginning to end and with just his name on the castlist, a nifty way with accents, demeanours and differing physicalities sees him really stretch his acting muscle (not just his biceps…) from getting on a swing to playing the piano and more besides. That said, there’s a real issue in narrative clarity because a group of characters variously expressing their existential angst, all played by one man – even with Scott’s talent – can’t help but merge into one another far too often.

Half the time, I gave up trying to work out who was talking, the other half has Stephens’ script providing name prompt after name prompt, Yates’ production clearly aware of the issue but not managing to find a middle ground that works. The collective ennui also becomes a little tedious in this presentation, a real sense that Scott’s deeply emotive characterisation of Vanya would have been so much better served interacting with other actors. As I said, Vanya is an impressive endeavour but we’re left with an existential crisis of our own – why do it like this? This production does not give us a satisfactory answer.

Running time: 110 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Vanya is booking at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 21st October

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