Rupert Everett opened his production of Uncle Vanya at the Theatre Royal a week late due to one of the main characters becoming injured shortly before the original opening night. With one character on crutches the show must go on and the curtain rose on Monday.
This production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is all about the acting. The standard of the cast is exceptional, and with no gimmicks or fads or even much of a set to hide behind, their talents are laid bare. With endless emotion from each character, whether that be misery, anger or despair (it’s not a particularly cheery play), it is raw acting with no distractions. And in my opinion when you’ve got a cast this good, that is exactly what you want.
David Hare’s adaptation of the complicated Russian play gave clarity to the storyline and character relationships. He has succeeded in making what could be a very dry and heavy feeling play, relatively light and very accessible.
Rupertt Everett both directs and plays the lead part of Uncle Vanya. His drunken state of despair for his estate and the country of Russia brings an element of comedy amongst all the woe.
He is simply brilliant as Vanya and I often found myself watching him when the focus was elsewhere as his silent reactions and responses were golden.
Extra bonus points to John Light who was badly injured and made his very necessary crutch part of the play. Light portrays the complex character of the Professor Mikhail Astrov well, bringing a jittery energy to the environmentally conscious doctor.
The rest of the cast were all superb, with no weak link between them but a couple of names you may recognise. Katherine Parkinson as Sonya and Clémence Poésy as Yelena in particular stood out for me with their complicated female relationship.
The set was magical and had almost an ethereal feeling to it. A thin white sheet veiled the scene before being lifted to reveal flowers dripping from the ceiling and beautiful furniture dotted about the stage.
Despite this aesthetically pleasing scenery, Uncle Vanya is not the sort of play I’d recommend you see if you want cheering up. It is full of misery and despair and troubles, most of which remain totally unresolved. You may find this frustrating as a plot line but if its quality acting you are after then this is the play for you.