THEATRE REVIEW: Uncle Vanya ★★★

Uncle Vanya
The Harold Pinter Theatre, London
Tuesday 14th January - Saturday 2nd May 2020

Celebrated as one of the greatest writers of all time, Anton Chekhov was a man who never shied away from putting characters to the forefront that were troubled and unlucky in their passions, with Uncle Vanya showcasing Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood), a young woman fixated with her family's doctor, Astrov (Richard Afmitage), as she looks after the estate in which is soon to be handed down to her thanks to Vanya (Toby Jones), her often deluded uncle.

Chekhov excels mostly in his writing when it comes to ensemble pieces, in which this production throws abouts with high intensity and comedic moments that have us in awe of the talents on stage, but stumbles mostly in providing efficient backstories to some of the personas, especially from Mariya (Dearbhla Molloy), the Mother-in-law who is often faded into the background and forgotten about, both in presence and storytelling. Rosalind Eleazar on the other hand as Yelena is written to the extent of layers upon misery in her current marriage to Serebryakov (Ciarán Hinds) that sees thorough emotion, similar and heightened to when sharing the stage with Sonya, to which Lou Wood is mesmerising in the role and will break your heart with her not so hidden sweet and tender ambitions to pursue Astrov's heart, a man years beyond her age.

Toby Jones takes on the titular role of Vanya and is transfixing with his erratic conversations and quick-witted phrases with a tortured soul screaming out in his performance, allowing a warm response from us as the audience to show empathy towards the character, and again scenes shared with Lou Wood as his niece is tender and poignant as they try and hold up the estate despite others rash judgements.

Conor McPherson's adaption also holds a climate change atmospheric feel which becomes apparent from Rae Smith's design of shrubbery seeping through the long glass shutters and surrounding the indoor sitting room staging, which merges with the lack of wellbeing from Vanya and Sonya, who shortly before the start of the play have disregarded their surroundings to put uncertain health worries to the centre.

Overall, Uncle Vanya is a strong piece that executes it's characteristic layering well in the big ensemble pieces, but has trouble at times to individually give each character a moment to find their personal thread, with some often left to merge into the background and become loose in an otherwise poignant production of family and heartbreak.


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