Uncle Vanya

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Written by Anton Chekhov

Adapted by Andrew Lipton 

Directed by Walter Meierjohann

Uncle Vanya was written 20 years before The Russian Revolution of 1917 and may depict a long gone era, however the themes of depression, regrets and obsessional love are timeless. The uncertainties and frailties of human emotion are all on display and are beautifully depicted in this adaptation.

The set by Steffi Wurster is vast so the home setting dwarves the characters. The walls extend up to encompass everything and everyone, effectively creating a sense of claustrophobia. The raised piano ensures that the comfort of music remains out of reach for Yelena. The sense of decay and gloom seeps out of the walls. Even a garden scene plays out within the gloom of the house. There is literally no escape for Vanya and Sonya. The estate dominates everything as both prison, and home and hearth. 

The key human emotions of Anger, Fear, Joy and Sadness are all evoked in subtle ways. The layers of each performance ensure that each character is defined and memorable. There is always a sense of fatalism here and human curiosity about how each character chooses to respond. The emotion connection with the audience becomes truly intimate when characters  address us as though personally sharing with us one to one. 

The Professor is a man whose success and potency is fast waning and the only new challenges he faces are illness and death. Nick Hodder’s Vanya brilliantly evokes a man who has given up in body and spirit. He is only 47 but feels his life is not only over but has never really started. The tragicomedic outcome of his brief reach for love and hope is  perfectly pitched. In contrast Jason Merrells gives Astrov vitality and curiosity which lifts the gloomy house. He imbues new thinking and change yet is born too soon to really make a difference for himself. Despite their differences neither man is likely to get the future they crave and will continue to exist rather than thrive.

The older women seem stoic and content in their roles within the house. The younger female characters are similarly trapped by the social norms. Hana Yannas is perfect cast as a beautiful and brittle trophy wife full of longing and repressed energy. She is mystified at the possibility of breaking free and having love and passion rather than wifely duty and social position. Katie West is luminous on stage, her Sonya is an innocent and it is her sense of hope in an weary old world that holds everyone together. Her physical plainness is viewed as an obstacle to love and passion so she is as equally thwarted as Yelena. She remains unseen by Vaskov despite being a good match for the middle aged doctor. The tragic irony that both her and Vaskov would rather have nothing if not a great love, and therefore both are likely to get nothing. She is at peace in a spiritual way, resigned to a life of duty and tending to the needs of others rather than fulfilling her own desires in her earthly life.

The ephemeral nature of love and hope seem to dictate that emotional survival comes from taking solace in solid things like food, vodka, work or nature. In Uncle Vanya we see all too painfully what may be the outcome from missed opportunities or possibilities not acted upon. If only Vanya had seized his moment with Yelena 10 years earlier or if Astrov was more of a pragmatist than a dreamer then Sonya would have a very different life. The  invitation in this production is Seize the Day for each day is a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

Fri 3Sat 25 Nov at HOME 

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