Chekhov is given a modern overhaul

Chekhov is given a modern overhaul

Robert Tanitch reviews Uncle Vanya at Almeida Theatre, London N1.

It doesn’t look like Chekhov. It doesn’t sound like Chekhov. Vanya is called John and Astrov is called Michael. Waffles is called Cartwright

The set is a huge slowly revolving four poster bed, which is not good for sightlines.

To have three short intervals isn’t helpful for either the play or the audience.

Robert Icke is not the first director to take Chekhov out of its familiar turn-of-the-century Russian provincial setting. There have been adaptations of Uncle Vanya set in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, New York and the Australian outback.

But Chekhov works best when the play is set in the 1890s and in provincial Russia far away from Moscow.

Time has run out for all the characters and they bitterly regret the mediocrity, the banality and ugliness of their lives. They feel they have been cheated, wasted and destroyed.

The dramatic high spot, as always, is when Vanya reacts to the professor’s proposal that they should sell the estate which he has managed for 25 years without financial reward or thanks.

Robert Tanitch logoVanya’s outburst is one of theatre’s great scenes and Paul Rhys rises to it magnificently. In his rage and frustration he takes it out on a bunch of flowers, smashing it to bits.  He had intended to give the flowers to Elena (Vanessa Kirby), the professor’s wife, whom he fancied as a mark of his affection, only to discover her having sex with Astrov on the floor.

Tobias Menzies’s Astrov is the sort of man who is liable to take off his trousers and dance about in his underpants.

Uncle Vanya is regularly revived. The Wood Demon, Chekhov’s first draft of the play, may not be as good, but it is certainly fascinating in its own right, and it hasn’t had a major revival in 18 years.

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