Hope Theatre, London – until 11 May 2019
Theatre company Tales Retold returns to the Hope Theatre, this time for a limited run of its new reworked version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. One of their aims is to “explore classic tales in innovative ways” – and they certainly do that with this production, as it chops what is usually a 2.5-hour play (with an interval) down to an 85-minute straight-through affair.
Provincial Russia, summer time. Vanya and his niece Sonya have been working tirelessly to keep the estate running for Professor Serebryakov (her father), while he lives in comfort in the city with his new young wife Yelena; they have recently returned to the estate and inadvertently wreaked havoc on all its occupants.
The local doctor (Astrov) frequents the house, bored with his job and oblivious to Sonya’s long-held love for him, and Marina is also around to lend a hand – usually taking charge of the samovar at all hours of the day. Vanya has become disillusioned with the professor and his work, filled with regret over what he sees as a wasted life and a lost chance of love; both he and Astrov have fallen for Yelena, though for now she remains faithful & steadfast to her husband. What will it take for the family to break free from its stupor?
Whilst it’s an admirable idea, and one that will perhaps make Chekhov feel a bit more approachable to some, by drastically cutting down the running time the play loses something. As events appear to take place over the course of around 24 hours, there’s a sense of urgency that’s at odds with the languor that has gripped the party; it’s true that they are at breaking point, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for any of them without the requisite build up – they could be dismissed as being melodramatic whingers.
The set design immediately transports you to the domestic setting and, along with the costumes, it’s all very pleasing to the eye. The size and position of the table in the intimate performance space is a bit of a hindrance: you can feel like you’re at a tennis match as you try to follow conversations between actors placed at opposite sides of the room. The fly on the wall feel is much more effectively harnessed when the characters are in slightly closer proximity to one another. Chris McDonnell’s lighting design and Jim Armstrong’s sound design are also worth a mention, as they do work together well to create an atmospheric production and immerse you into Chekhov’s world.
Of the cast of six, Cassandra Hodges impresses with her earnest and sincere portrayal of Sonya; this particular character can potentially come across as a bit weak and a bit of a pushover, but not so in this production – Hodges shows off Sonya’s inner strength as she comes to terms with the course on which she is set. Adrian Wheeler is another standout as the titular character. There’s an honesty about his performance that does manage to get you onside, plus he has a good sense of comedy.
Photo credit: Cameron Harle Photography
My verdict? A well designed production, with some strong performances – but its urgency clashes with the tone of the play.
Uncle Vanya runs at The Hope Theatre until 11 May 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.
Tags: Adrian Wheeler, Cassandra Hodges, Chekhov, Chris McDonnell, Hope Theatre, Jim Armstrong, Off West End, review, Tales Retold, theatre, Uncle VanyaCategories: all posts, review, theatre
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