Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Uncle Vanya


After well over 50 years of theatre going I tend to muddle my Ibsens and Chekhovs There are similar themes; deep boredom and depression, the need to go to Moscow or a similar place, and dramatic gunshots which are farcical rather than tragic. I think it was Michael Redgrave who I saw originally - so it was along time ago. We took the – what MTL calls ‘the granny bus ‘ - to Bath and for once I took the time to suss out three restaurants near the theatre, with their telephone numbers. We have a couple more trips quite soon and it will be nice to have a change from the theatre restaurant.

I was really looking forward to the play as the cast looked interesting and it was a new translation by Stephen Mulrine. It has been called ‘theatre of nastroenie’ – full of mood and atmosphere. It is set on a crumbling Russian Estate which is run by Vanya and his niece Sonya for the benefit of Vanya’s brother in law – Serebryakov an ailing academic, also known as the Professor. He had been married to Vanya’s sister who died and in fact the property is now owned by Sonya but as she is a mere young woman, this tends to get over looked. When the professor – with his beautiful new wife - announces he may sell up all hell breaks loose.

Vanya is a typical Chekhovian hero – unhappy, drinks too much, a comic, tragic figure bewailing lost time, wasted lives and impossible loves. He develops a loathing for the Professor and calls him ‘a sort of scholarly kipper’. Vanya is in love with the professor’s wife Yelena who has an alabaster beauty and sizzles with latent sexuality. The doctor- Astrov - a frequent visitor, also develops a passion for Yelena and he in turn is adored by the plain little mouse that is Sonya. Vanya is devastated when he comes upon the doctor and Yelena in a passionate embrace - just when he is about to give her a bouquet.

It doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs but it is played in such a comic way that I feared the sadness of the ending would be diluted. I need not have worried.

Vanya is so self obsessed with his own misery he blithely ignores Sonya’s despair and the last scene, when the visitors depart, is deeply moving as Sonya tells him they will survive, they will rest and they will finish their lives. I always relish the swirling movement of the actors on stage in a Russian play and the whole play is a resounding success and finally moved me to tears.

Principal Characters

Sonya Lou Brealey

Yelena Michelle Dockery

Vanya Nicholas Le Provost

Astrov Neil Pearson

Serebryakov Ronald Pickup


Peter Hall


OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

It is funny Pat, that whenever I hear the plots of any if the Checkov plays, or see them, for that matter, thry are like a great Russian Soap Opera...You know what I mean? Many characters; lots of cross currents of people being in love with the same characters; much deception, etc....! This sounds liie it was a wonderful production---and Directed by the Great Oeter Hall! A Real Treat!

Dandelion said...

Me too! I always get those two muddled up.

PI said...

Naomi: I've always had a weakness for a really good soap. Sir Peter Hall and I were born in the same year. I met him briefly and he resembles Dr Fu man Choo. I feel as if I have grown up with him and notice how often he harks back to the theatre of the fifties.

Dandelion: there's a lot in what Randall says.

Slimbolala said...

Rather tangentially, I love the phrase "suss out". Glad to see somebody else using it.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

You know, ALL those years ago when we were doing SPOON RIVER on Broadway...Peter Hall wanted to direct the production in London....with us! But it never haqppened....And I am not sure weather it was because Charles Aidman, (Director/Adaptor/Actor/Lyricist) would not give up his position....Now, that would have been something....Doing SPOON RIVER in London! So I met him very briefly, just once, back in the day. He certainly has had a wonderfully distinguished career....!

Kanani said...

I get them muddled as well. I love Uncle Vanya --haven't seen a production in years!

By the way, Pat, have you checked out The Sartorialist lately? There's a gentleman on there with bright yellow gloves!

PI said...

slimbolala: I sometimes feel guilty using slang, so glad you approve.

Naomi: that's a shame; it would have been great. I like him because he's such a worker and isn't the slightest bit chi chi and he's a great family man with all those children and 77 to boot!

Kanani: I'll go over there right now.

rashbre said...

Ibsen plays tend to have the gun hanging symbolically on the wall (viz Hedda Gabler).

Interesting review - sounds like you've had a good time.

PI said...

Rashbre: there is the same farcical shooting also. I didn't nod off - ergo it was good:)

Shane said...

Not 'exactly' related, but you remind me of an amateur production of Ibsen's 'An Enemy of the People'. The cast was enormous and - maybe because I wasn't in the right mood for theatre - it felt like the longest evening ever. Still, at least the seats were comfortable.

PI said...

Shane: that is an important factor; there is a theatre in Taunton which is ruinous for my back and if you tote cushions it looks as if you have piles- which I don't.