Review: Uncle Vanya @St_JamesTheatre @UncleVanya2014

John Hannah is perfect as Uncle Vanya, superbly supported, especially by @TheJoeDixon, Amanda Hale, Rebecca Night and Jack Shepherd in this unmissable production. It’s yet another reminder of what a superb playwright Chekhov was, re-written in this case by Anya Reiss.The direction by Russell Bolam is also spot on, sometimes allowing a simple look or action carry as much meaning as the words.

The references to iPads and mobile phones brought this production firmly up to date. For me, however, the play could not escape its original setting. The 19th century world of rural, middle class Russia is unlike any other. Distinguished by class from the serfs who were effectively slaves, the middle classes ran their country estates often on the brink of bankruptcy, obliged to play host to large numbers of middle class hangers-on, occasionally playing at professions, a doctor here and an architect there, while eating, drinking and lazing around. It is a world made very familiar not just through Chekhov but in recent productions of Turgenev’s Fortune’s Fool at the Old Vic and Gorky’s Summerfolk. The brilliant Three Sisters at the Young Vic showed that you can perform it on table tops and a heap of black earth and still capture that strange world.

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