Robert Goodale in VANYA (Image: Simon Kane)
Sam Holcroft's outstanding adaptation of Chekhov lament on 'the wasted life' pairs the story down to four characters focusing on the unrequited love that fuels the eponymous uncle and his niece's resigned disappointment with their lot.
It opens with the return of Sonia's sick father and his new wife - the object of Vanya's obsession since childhood - Yelena. The patient's worsening condition brings handsome young doctor Astrov to their estate and Sonia is smitten with his steadfast manner and idealism offering, as it does, a perfectly thought out socio-organisational model based on 'tribal living' that will be the salvation of modern man; exhorting honesty, goodness and self-control. That is until he meets Yelena.
Echoes of Chekhov social commentary (the rallying crying of 20th century modernism versus the decaying decadence of 19th century rural Russia) are present in Holcroft's updated text, taking in the complex cynicisms and sympathies of the 1901 original. What she skilfully creates - aided no end by a strong cast not scared to engage with the blatant vulnerability Chekhov often offers his characters - is an intense setting where the slightest comment, the most humdrum observation inspires hope of an escape for the love-struck, longing for change or just a chance.
VANYA plays at The Gate, Notting Hill, W11 until 26th September, tickets £16. See www.gatetheatre.co.uk for more details.