This extraordinary one man interpretation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya treads the line between comedy and tragedy beautifully says Emma Clarendon.
How do you re-interpret Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for a modern day audience without losing the heart and soul of the play? In the case of Simon Stephen’s adaptation, co-created by Andrew Scott and Stephens it is to allow one person explore all of the characters in one through a series of clever and mesmerising techniques that keep the audience hooked from start to finish.
While on the surface of the play it doesn’t seem as though much happens,this stripped back interpretation allows for closer examination of the characters by not only bringing their interactions with other characters to life – but in many ways bringing their internal thoughts and emotions through the performance of one actor to show how in many ways they are all interlinked. This is a very human production with much for the audience to relate to, thrillingly brought to life through Andrew Scott’s brilliant performance that engages and enthrals from start to finish.
As an adaptation, there is a playfulness that captures the audience’s attention right from the start (references to a dog that seemingly appears out of nowhere – leading to questions as to where they have been all this time and a character who has been sat to the side of the stage without any acknowledgement for example). The seamless way in which Andrew Scott is able to transform from character to character is incredible to witness (with or without the help of props such as a dish cloth, tennis ball or a pair of sunglasses) makes for a fluid performance and certainly the best performance I have seen from an actor this year. Everything has been carefully thought out to make maximum impact.
With the help of Rosanna Viza’s designs, the way in which the story unfolds feels natural, as he disappears behind a door (for a split second) to come through it with a different personality to show, while the wall of mirrors hidden and revealed throughout ensure that not one expression and emotion that he displays is missed. Meanwhile, the use of music by Kelly Moran is suitably haunting, particularly when used to highlight the missed presence of Anna and the darkness and change of mood enhanced by James Farncombe’s lighting design ensure that depth of the story is bought out effectively.
Perhaps the energy and pace of Sam Yates’s production begins to flag towards the end, but the power of the adaptation by Stephens is that it gets the balance between comedy and tragedy just beautifully correct. You feel the power of anguish of Sonia’s unrequited love, the frustration of Alexander’s failing career, Helena’s longing for something more out of life and Ivan’s resentment – all powerfully captured through Andrew Scott’s incredible and one of a kind performance. Through him, you see that the main link between each of the characters is that they haven’t made the best of their lives – which is the real tragedy that lies at the heart of the piece.
This is certainly a play and performance worth catching if you can.
By Emma Clarendon
Vanya continues to play at the Duke of York’s Theatre until the 21st October. To book tickets click here.