A production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya should present the hopelessness felt by a family out in the sticks, alongside the humour of the text. The story of a family depressed by their provincial existence and the arrival of their brother-in-law and his hot young wife whom they support financially, should stir something uncomfortable and intriguing. This West End production directed by Lindsay Posner is at least uncomfortable.
Led by Ken Stott as Vanya, and starring Anna Friel as Yelena, the new wife of windbag professor Serebryakov (Paul Freeman), the show also sees Laura Carmichael (of Downton Abbey fame) as his put-upon daughter Sonya. Sonya, the youngest of the clan, is sensible, hard-working and completely besotted by Dr Astrov (Samuel West). Her longing is a hope that won’t die even in the realisation that Astrov like most of the men here, including her Uncle, is besotted by Yelena.
Despite the calibre of the actors and indeed the director, this production lacks any effective dynamics between the performers. Carmichael plays her role like she’s in a romantic tragedy (which in a way it is) while Sam West’s Astrov seems like something out of a British comedy. Ken Stott’s Vanya is fantastic but quite farcical and Anna Friel is basically phoning it in.
The events move on but there’s little palpable development from the performances. While there are many things to praise including the supporting cast and the set design, the lack of cohesion affects the pacing and effectively ruins it. Uncle Vanya requires an ensemble cast to at times, meld into one and at others, break away to give us their own individual take on a life of endless hard work and little real ambition. It needs careful navigation between the modulating tones and it needs to embrace those changes. Sadly, this West End production fails miserably on all those fronts.
Uncle Vanya runs at Vaudeville Theatre until 16th February 2013
Image by Nobby Clark