Review: Uncle Vanya
Image courtesy Hope Theatre
Cast and creatives
Adrian Wheeler - Uncle Vanya
Cassandra Hodges - Sonya
DK Ugonna - Astrov
Esme Mahoney - Yelena
Gilly Daniels - Marina
Roray McCallum - Serebryakov
"When real life is wanting one must create an illusion.
It is better than nothing."
Uncle Vanya's learned brother-in-law returns to the family estate with his new young wife, Yelena.
This is enough to break the fragile surface tension, the thin layer of delusion, which thus far has contained the more toxic realities of family life.
Drink flows, and soon father, daughter, uncle and all become embroiled in a passionate crescendo of domestic unrest - opening wounds, breaking hearts and putting the future of the whole estate in peril.
Following its acclaimed, 5 star, all-female production of Antigone, Tales Retold returns to the Hope with a new, reduced version of this Chekhov classic.
In a tense and richly distilled study of the dysfunctional family, this production engages with the inherent bleak humour of the piece - a portrait of stagnant domesticity in nineteenth century Russia, which still chimes rather uncomfortably today.
Sensibly resisting the temptation to tinker with the original setting, director James Stone delivers a cut-down adaptation of Chekhov's classic tale, inviting us into the confines of a drawing room in a rural family home in turn-of-the-century Russia.
A reduced version it may be, but there's still plenty of intensity in the interplay between characters, even if nothing very much happens during the course of the play, and nothing within the plot leads to anything approaching lasting change in the lives of the characters.
It's late summer, but the heat still hasn't quite dissipated, matching the rise in the temperatures of the characters, fuelled by romantic passion.
Adrian Wheeler's Uncle Vanya runs an estate along with his niece Sonya on behalf of retired art professor Serebryakov who is paying a visit to the country with his much younger and beautiful wife Yelena.
A regular visitor to the estate is Dr Astrov, who is obsessed with the local environment and the way it has been decimated over the past few decades - that provides some topicality given demonstrations about climate change in our capital during the past few days.
Vanya is obsessed with Yelena and Dr Astrov has also taken a fancy to her too.
At the same time, Sonya loves Astrov and gets Yelena to find out if her feelings towards the doctor are reciprocated.
As romantic passions bubble around her, nanny Marina devotedly tends the boiling samovar, pours endless glasses of vodka, or just simply carries on with her knitting whilst longing for the normal routine of country life to be reestablished.
Things reach a climax when Serebryakov announces his plans to sell the estate, prompting Vanya to fury and surprisingly extreme action.
Newly-painted walls with pictures, a dresser, a large central table and reconfigured entrance doors transform the Hope Theatre into a homely, but unglamorous country villa.
Sitting around three sides of the acting area in this cosy venue the audience almost feel like extras on set, and there's a sense of claustrophobia that reflects the characters' situations in the dreary normality of unremarkable and unchanging rural existence.
But the cast of six are commendably unconstrained by the somewhat limited space, delivering well-defined characterisations and convincing performances all round.
Adrian Wheeler's Vanya is a man exhausted and frustrated by a quarter of a century dealing with the drudgery of running the estate, and we find real dismay when his fury is spent and he realises the rest of his life is going to be no different.
Cassandra Hodges finds a real sense of joy in Sonya's hope of love from Astrov, but when her dreams are dashed she is the one to find some inner strength to cope with reality and to comfort her uncle in their shared dejection.
While change is happening throughout the environmental landscape they inhabit, life for Sonya, Vanya, Marina and Astrov goes on much as it has done - the repetitive and drab routine of rural living spent without love or passion.
That might seem a rather depressing outcome - and the ending here is certainly sad - but this version of Chekhov's sombre play is nonetheless polished and engrossing.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Hope Theatre
Our show listing for Uncle Vanya
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