Theatre Review: Uncle Vanya At Harold Pinter Theatre

Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre ★★★★☆

Mike Clarke
By Mike Clarke Last edited 50 months ago

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Theatre Review: Uncle Vanya At Harold Pinter Theatre Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre 4
Photo: Johan Persson

Conor McPherson’s reworking of this dacha-based melodrama has nicely millennial-ised Chekhov's original, in a way that strips it of unnecessary, audience-alienating ornaments without losing any of its power. There’s a strong ensemble cast but really it’s Toby Jones’s show: in the title role he’s a deadbeat malodorous peasant with a lecherous wink for the ladies and a ready retort for all comers.

Photo: Johan Persson

That’s not to say the rest of the cast don’t give as good as they get. Particularly strong are Richard Armitage, a handsome younger Astrov, oozing repressed 19th century sexuality, and Aimee Lou Wood (the toothsome teen agony aunt in TV's Sex Education) as a limpid Sonya. Here she’s quavering on the edge of a sexual revolution or more likely realisation that life, unfortunately, goes on. And on.

Photo: Johan Persson

Her opposite is Rosalind Eleazar, believable as Yelena, the tart with... if not a heart, then certainly guts and a spleen. But it’s Jones who has the measure of this play, owning the stage from the start, whether it’s a trousers falling down gag, or an elaborate routine where he leads Astrov and Waffles (the amiable Peter Wight) in a merry drunken dance in and out of the cupboards shouting at the tops of their voices.

Photo: Johan Persson

If anything, it’s designer Rae Smith’s lush green set, evoking a lived-in dacha and visualising the entropy of fin-de-siecle Russia, that shares top billing. Detail, depth and a lived-in rustic feel add to both the vitality and smothering sense of stultification that’s at the heart of Vanya: the clash between the energetic city dwellers, ever hungry for novelty, and their country cousins for whom keeping it going is what counts. As the earth burns around us, we may need to decide soon who’s side we’re on. Chekhov certainly knew.

Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, SW1Y 4DN. Tickets £15-£90, until 2 May 2020.

Last Updated 27 January 2020