Review: Uncle Vanya

Harold Pinter Theatre's latest production of the Chekov classic still holds power.

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While some other directors nowadays try their best to keep the stage and costumes as simplistic as possible in modern adaptations of period theatre (like Jamie Lloyd’s 5-star Cyrano de Bergerac, where the sentence “I love words, that’s all” is unapologetically written on a blank canvas as backdrop for the entire duration of the play), the exquisitely arranged setting of Conor McPherson’s Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London is quite refreshing; with ancient-looking furnitures, edible/drinkable props on the dining table, genuine candles lit in front of the audience by actors during scene change, and not to mention the acoustically realistic gunshot and thunderstorm – the stage design shows off modernness not by the absence but rather the abundance of sensory effects unavailable in Anton Chekhov’s time.

Toby Jones exploits Uncle Vanya’s comical nature with wittiness and overflowing energy, jumping across the table while throwing glib remarks; Richard Armitage’s Astrov is masculine attractiveness incarnate, captivating every pair of eyes when he runs off shirtless into the pouring rain; as the youngest member of the cast with the shortest introduction in the programme, Aimee Lou Wood shows the right amount of naivety and desperation to do the ingenue of Sonya justice, without leaving the character’s other dimensions unexplored; the steady voice in her monologue at the end of second act transforms the vulnerability of an unrequited lover into hope and resilience, lending the problematic and unresolved ending a tinge of feminine power.

Three hours enshrouded in smoke and dim light, Uncle Vanya offers a modernly devised escape from the modern world – with more than just words.