THEATRE REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (2020)

Reviews, Theatre
At the Harold Pinter Theatre

A few weeks ago I saw Uncle Vanya, it is a Chekov play about a crumbling family, described on their website –

“In the heat of summer, Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood) and her Uncle Vanya (Toby Jones) while away their days on a crumbling estate deep in the countryside, visited occasionally by only the local doctor Astrov (Richard Armitage).
However, when Sonya’s father Professor Serebryakov (Ciarán Hinds) suddenly returns with his restless, alluring, new wife (Rosalind Eleazar) declaring his intention to sell the house, the polite facades crumble and long repressed feelings start to emerge with devastating consequences.”

In Conor McPherson’s new adaptation of the play, directed by Ian Rickson, Chekov’s story gets a more modern reboot despite being set in the 18th/19th century. The two ‘big names’ in it are Toby Jones who plays Uncle Vanya and Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, North and South, The Stranger etc.) plays Astrov, the doctor. Both performances are brilliant and Toby Jones portrayal of a man in bottled up anger, madness and betrayal is very moving. Armitage’s character in comparison is very surgical and precise in expressing his emotions, but the suppression of the feelings of pain at seeing so much suffering (a little like PTSD) is profound. Aimie Lou Wood, for me, however was the star of the show, her portrayal of Sonya is truly tragic – the character ends up much in the position as Uncle Vanya yet she is the one that bottles up her emotions and helps him to get on with life.

The concept of the play is a bit like a tornado has hit, it begins and ends almost the same way with the action stemming from the arrival of the professor and his wife. Then the action disappears when they leave but the family still have to deal with the repercussions and the effect these two people have had upon them. The tone is definitely a tragic one, but there are moments of comedy especially at the beginning through Uncle Vanya’s character who attempts to bring some lightheartedness to the situation.

The staging is beautiful, it looks like something out of a renaissance painting with plants and chandeliers hanging. The way they have used lighting as well was genius, using the weather to reflect the mood of the scene. In times of joy, the set was illuminated with a warm light whereas in times of pain and sorrow, the stage is dimly lit and cold.

In terms of price it wasn’t too costly. We got the cheapest tickets at £15 so we were right at the back but the view wasn’t that restricted. It is quite steep seating in the Harold Pinter Theatre though, so if you’re not a fan of heights I would probably recommend going for seats closer to the stage although they are more expensive. We went on opening night too so I was surprised we managed to find tickets that cheap, when we arrived they had the red carpet rolled out with people having champagne and press photos taken of the celebrity guests who were there.

Overall, everything about this play is so beautifully set out and it had been given a very modern reboot although set in an 18th century style. The play itself is thought provoking but if you like stories to have more movement with characters going on more of a journey arriving at a different destination, so to speak, this might not be for you.

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