Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya featuring Toby Jones and Richard Armitage at the Harold Pinter Theatre is so good you can forgive the “wanging on”.
This Uncle Vanya is more roundedly entertaining than other recent productions and while that detracts a little from the emotional undercurrents of the original, the fluidity and richness of Rickson’s production, performed by an excellent cast, ensure a satisfying Chekhovian conclusion.
I always find it fascinating to watch how the critical community deals with a play that becomes a big success. The overnight rush to acclaim genius, the enthusiasm with which some greet it, the scepticism that that inspires in others followed by the relief that comes when someone publishes a well-reasoned critique that allows them to say ‘well it isn’t that good, see’.
Ferociously strict principal Sister Aloysius is convinced that there is inappropriateness occurring between parish priest Father Flynn and the school’s first black pupil, but her views are coloured by her loathing of Flynn’s modernising ways.
Jez Butterworth and Sam Mendes are names pretty much guaranteed to make any theatregoing regular pay attention, both are synonymous with high quality productions (Butterworth’s Jerusalem regularly crops up among best play lists while Mendes’ list of director credits is too long to replay here) and they worked together on Spectre, the most recent movie in the James Bond franchise.
Set in rural County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in August 1981, the play takes place in the Carney home. This is a farming family, who grow cereals for export, and the head of the household is Quinn Carney (Considine), a former IRA man.
The play’s the thing though and here, Butterworth has constructed a Northern Irish epic. Set at harvest-time in 1981, deep in County Armagh, the Carney clan are gathering for a humdinger of a do once the work in the field is done.
Jez Butterworth’s immense, ambitious new play takes us deep into that world and roams beyond it into universal themes of history and legend, memory and love, childhood, song and poetry and national identity and the way national dreams sour to vicious partisan expediency.