Festival 2012

Roger Allam Dervla Kirwan Timothy West

Uncle Vanya

By Anton Chekhov Translated by Michael Frayn

Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya

Minerva Theatre

30 Mar - 5 May 2012

Overview

Listen to the pre-show talk, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya

Watch a snippet of the orginal 1962 production

For years Vanya and his niece Sonya have worked tirelessly to keep the family’s dilapidated, remote estate from ruin. The return of Vanya’s brother-in-law Professor Serebryakov and
his captivating second wife Yelena, and frequent visits from the charismatic Doctor Astrov, knock their lives off course as old loyalties and new loves conflict.

When the Professor announces his plan to sell the estate, Vanya and Sonya are faced with an uncertain future and Vanya is provoked into a shocking act of violence.

Funny and heartbreaking in turn as it moves seamlessly between humour and melancholy, Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece lays bare his characters’ passions, hopes and desires with
exceptional warmth and poignancy.

Anton Chekhov’s plays include The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters and The Seagull.

Michael Frayn has translated most of Chekhov’s plays. His own plays include Noises Off and Copenhagen, his novels Spies and Headlong.

Roger Allam played Falstaff at Shakespeare’s Globe, winning the 2011 Olivier Award for Best Actor. In the same year he also won the Evening Standard Comedy Award for the film Tamara Drewe. He was last at Chichester in Festival 2006’s Pravda.

Dervla Kirwan’s theatre credits include Exiles and Aristocrats (National Theatre) and Betrayal. Film credits include Ondine and television credits include The Silence and this year’s The Fuse
starring alongside Christopher Eccleston.

Timothy West was last at Chichester in A Number. His numerous theatre credits include The Collection, Quartet, King Lear and, most recently, A Number at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Television and film includes Exile, Bleak House, Iris and Endgame.

Jeremy Herrin directed South Downs for Festival 2011. He is Associate Director of the Royal Court Theatre where his credits include Haunted Child, The Heretic and That Face; other credits include Absent Friends at the Harold Pinter Theatre and Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe.

'Jeremy Herrin’s production is poignant, funny
and profound'

5 Star Rating The Times

Read our Cast Q&As

Uncle Vanya is sponsored by

Festival 2012

Kenwood

Kenwood


Reviews

The Times
5 Star Rating

There are those who avoid Chekhov. Put off by some inept parasol-fest or clunky translation, they wish these depressed fin-de-siécle bourgeois Russians would get a life. At one dull Cherry Orchard, a man behind me muttered “Roll on the revolution.”

Such dissidents have simply not struck lucky. Here they will. Without gimmicks and using Michael Frayn’s sinewy version (worked directly from the Russian), Jeremy Herrin’s production is poignant, funny and profound, exploring and honouring regret, disillusion, grief and the traps of self and selflessness. In the hope that first-timers will go, despite the play’s fame I offer no spoilers.

Not difficult, because, defying fictional rules, Chekhov puts the “inciting incident” – a certain announcement – halfway through Act 2. Before that we meet old Professor Serebryakov (Timothy West on chilling form), a parasite on his late wife’s estate. The estate is managed by his daughter Sonya and the dead wife’s brother Vanya, who has lost respect for the Professor and brilliantly skewers scholarship as: “Writing about things clever people knew for ages, and stupid people don’t care about.”

Roger Allam’s Vanya is a marvel, moving between sullen depression and rapier wit, hopelessness and passion: both a Hancock and a Byron. His greatness lies in generous admiration: for his dead sister; once for the Professor; now for the latter’s new wife, Yelena. However badly he behaves, glaring and sulking, like Sonya you yearn to comfort him.

The Professor and Yelena are on a long visit; her beauty smites Vanya and causes Doctor Astrov to call daily. The poor plain Sonya loves Astrov without hope, and is the only one enthused by his poetic eco-sermons about deforestation and the vanishing of wildlife, monasteries and wells.

Alexander Hanson’s intelligently ambiguous Astrov is stricken by the cynicism that is a hazard of the medical profession (Chekhov knew about that). He fools himself that his emotional void can be filled by planting trees for happier generations.

I sense Chekhov-deniers looking for the exit. But stay. Even if the other five-star Vanya now running at the Print Room in London doesn’t  beguile you, try this: the mournful, thoughtful; forest where Peter McKintosh’s slender trees. Leaf-fall and moonlight shimmer through long windows, and Fergus O’Hare’s soundscape of crickets and distant dogs evoke rural melancholy.

Stay, for the moments when high emotion tips into comedy. Astrov storming drunk with his stiff collar flapping, or Dervla Kirwan, unspeakably moving in Sonya’s nun-like dresses, embracing the careless Yelena. Feel the undercurrent of older certainties, as the old nurse dismisses rows with “Geese cackle, then quieten” and the impoverished Telegin (Anthony O’Donnel, a marvel) strums the guitar. Stay, for the oblique lesson that it is better to feel and be unhappy than to shrivel into selfishness.

The Guardian
4 Star Rating

It was Olivier's legendary production of this play 50 years ago that put the new Chichester theatre on the map, and there are times when Jeremy Herrin's production seems like an act of homage: Peter McKintosh's set matches exactly my memories of Sean Kenny's original. But any sense of piety is punctured by Roger Allam's shattering performance in the title role.

Allam's Vanya is, as Chekhov must have wished, a tragic buffoon. You see from the start the absurdity of a man who has slaved away for an academic brother-in-law he detests: emerging from a drunken slumber, a dazed Allam immediately collides with a door. And the comic aspects of Vanya are captured by the way he tries to hold in his slight paunch or lunges like a spaniel at the beautiful Yelena. But there is also real tragedy in this performance. In the great scene where Vanya rounds on the Professor, Allam almost unconsciously picks the petals off a bouquet of roses to symbolise his wasted life, and stutters helplessly when he cries "I could have been a Dostoevsky." In its interweaving of comedy and despair, this is the best Vanya since Michael Redgrave in 1962.

But Chekhov is a team game and there is a host of good performances. Alexander Hanson invests the ecological doctor, Astrov, with the ideal touch of sexual vanity and bibulous coarseness. Lara Pulver not only captures Yelena's indolent beauty and intoxication with Astrov, but also the deep self-loathing behind her description of herself as "a minor character". And Dervla Kirwan suggests, as all good Sonyas should, the giddy obsession with Astrov that offsets the character's stoical endurance. I could have done without the fiddlers who preface each act, and the sound design is more striking in the concurrent revival at London's Print Room. But this production has the benefit of Michael Frayn's translation, a cast that bats all the way down, and an awareness that Chekhov holds the mirror up to our own aching sense of what might have been.

The Daily Telegraph
4 Star Rating

By a quirk of spring scheduling, we have two Uncle Vanyas opening within a week of each other – one in London, the other in Chichester, both in studio spaces. The battle of the Vanyas, you could say – except that pitting them against one another is an empty contest: when the productions are this highly achieved, I could happily see three Vanyas on the trot and not feel glutted.

The more you examine the play, provided the translations are good, as they are here (courtesy of Mike Poulton and Michael Frayn), the greater the depth of unbearable feeling it reveals. Chekhov, only 36 when he wrote this, shows us, in TS Eliot’s phrase, “fear in a handful of dust”: one day a middle-aged man wakes with the inconsolable thought that he has wasted his life in duty and drudgery – that thought appears to infect those around him, although they must have been incubating it, too; and after a few hours you’re looking into a plague house of existential torment, where the wind moans outside as much as the characters do within it, starved of sleep, haunted by intimations of inconsequentiality.

It’s Vanya, of course, the bachelor steward of his long-dead sister’s estate, maintained for 25 years on behalf of her first husband – the now retired academic Serebryakov – who feels this most keenly, or at least declares it most vociferously.

If I have to express a personal preference, I’d plump for Roger Allam’s fantastically hangdog portrayal in Jeremy Herrin’s production in Chichester over Iain Glen’s more vituperative, lean-visaged Vanya in Lucy Bailey’s revival. While Glen looks more plausibly as if he has toiled in a provincial backwater, seeing out rough weather and rougher humours – and might even have Russian blood pumping through him – Allam has the edge on the character’s mocking and self-mocking tendencies.

Evening Standard
4 Star Rating

Uncle Vanya was staged as part of the first ever season at Chichester Festival Theatre. It therefore seems apt for Chekhov’s great tragicomedy to be revived in the year this cultural flagship celebrates its 50th anniversary.

A stellar cast makes Jeremy Herrin's production, on paper, an essential one. And so it proves, even if the emphasis is perhaps tilted a little too far towards the play's humorous side.

Roger Allam’s Vanya is a long-suffering man whose every gesture suggests lethargy. He has given his life to the service of Professor Serebryakov, a talentless pedant whom he once mistook for a figure of handsome erudition. Vanya has lapsed into a state of rumpled disappointment. When eventually his sense of missed opportunity provokes him to anger, Allam brings an agonized conviction to this outburst.

Timothy West plays Serebryakov as a self-important invalid, his mouth turned down with disdain. Meanwhile as Yelena, his bored young wife, Lara Pulver is intriguingly complex. At first she appears glacially indifferent to all around her, as if recently arrived from another galaxy, but we see this as a flirtatious pose, and later she reveals her passions and humanity, quivering with a hysteria she can't suppress.

While Yelena magnetizes male attention, no one takes much interest in Sonya, the professor's homely daughter. She is tormented by being ignored. Dervla Kirwan makes her achingly sympathetic: her gestures are always eloquent, and there's a deep soulfulness in the performance.

The man Sonya adores is Astrov, the doctor who ministers to her father. He is Vanya’s friend but also his rival - a cavalier charmer, tactile and vigorous, complete with a flamboyantly pointy moustache. Alexander Hanson skilfully conveys both his attractiveness and his limitations. There’s intelligent work, too, from Anthony O'Donnell, owlish as the impoverished landowner Telegin, and Maggie Steed, who has a pained nobility as the widowed mother of the professor's first wife.

Michael Frayn’s lucid translation is full of moments of prickly vitality that evoke the sheer awkwardness of Chekhov's characters. At the same time it does justice to the Russian's portrait of impossible love and squandered life. With Allam at its core, this is an emotionally truthful production, absorbing and affecting.

Daily Express
4 Star Rating

Chekhov’s brooding masterpiece examines the frequent hopelessness of human endeavor, gliding from comedy to tragedy with sensitivity, much warmth, dept, insight and an agnst that can only be Russian.

The play concerns the visit to a dilapidated and remote estaate by an elderly professor and his glamorous second wife.

The land has long been tirelessly managed by his former brother-in-law Vany and his neice Sonya, played by Dervla Kirwan, but the professor has plans to sell the estate off.

All this is set against a background of characters who are trapped in their rural isolation and the frustrations of their search for personal happiness.

Michael Frayn’s translation makes the play logical and accessable, unlike other versions, which tend to emphasise only the broader aspects of what Chekhov intended.

He captures a sense of familiarity, so that the emotions are easy to grasp.

Roger Allam’s portrayal of Vanya is often deeply moving – in particular, his mounting sense of despair at what he sees as the corrosive pathos of his life.

He often brilliantly interprets the treacherous twinning of sef-pity and anguish, and the scenes when he rages at his emotional impotence and mounting fear are dramatic to behold.

Timothy West, still finer-voiced and formidable in his stage presence, presents a strong portrayal of Professor Serebryakov.

He gives us a pompous and faintly ridiculous academic who is oblivious to all the fierce passions swirling around him. West does a fine line in mindledd insensitivity and the self-importance of the character oozes out.

Alexander Hanson is sharp as Astrov, the doctor who lusts after the professor’s wife, Yelena, beautifully played by Lara Pulver.

Together they exchange one of the longest and sexiest stage kisses I’ve seen for many a year. Peter McKintosh’s stage designs have an elegant “Russian-ness” about them, samovar and all, while Jeremy Herrin’s direction is firm and thoughtful.

This is a thought-provoking production that delves deeply into the intellect of a great Russian playwright whose understanding of the frailties of human relationships is shown with an often fierce clarity.


The Company

Creative Team

Gabrielle Dawes

Casting Designer

Gabrielle Dawes

Jeremy Herrin

Director

Jeremy Herrin

Dario Marianelli

Music

Dario Marianelli

Peter McKintosh

Designer

Peter McKintosh

Fergus O'Hare

Sound Designer

Fergus O'Hare

Chahine Yavroyan

Lighting Designer

Chahine Yavroyan


Cast

Roger Allam

Roger Allam

Vanya

Dervla Kirwan

Dervla Kirwan

Sonya

Timothy West

Timothy West

Professor Serebryakov

Steve Chadwick

Steve Chadwick

Watchman

Charles De Bromhead

Charles De Bromhead

Workman

Alexander Hanson

Alexander Hanson

Astrov

Maggie McCarthy

Maggie McCarthy

Marina

Anthony O'Donnell

Anthony O'Donnell

Telegin

Maggie Steed

Maggie Steed

Maria Vasilyevna



Booking Info

Running time:

2 hours, 35 minutes (including one interval of 20 minutes)

Tickets:

Previews/Press Nights £23.50
Evenings/Matinees £29.50

Discounts and concessions available
Terms & Conditions


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