The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings








Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us

A CurtainUp London London Review
Uncle Vanya

It's only in romantic novels that people teach and nurse peasants.— Yelena
Uncle Vanya
Nicholas Le Prevost as Vanya
. (Photo: Nobby Clark)
The star of this opening season is the new theatre, The Rose in Kingston Upon Thames, just to the south west of London and half an hour on a train from Waterloo. The new theatre is based on the ground plan of the original 1587 The Rose Theatre on London's South Bank. It is a beautiful new space with plenty of glass and soft hued wood and grey stained doors with large areas to circulate. But praising the theatre alone would be to take away from Peter Hall's engaging and touching production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya for the English Touring Theatre.

Somehow Uncle Vanya is a play that grows on one, with each successive production it becomes more affective, offering different nuances and lights of imagination. Peter Hall has based this Vanya on the comedy which accentuates the tragedy when it comes into bitter relief. The asides from the players are spoken directly to the audience, just as a character reveals the inner thoughts that he or she can only express to strangers. Although we are laughing at the irony, we are still affected by the frustration, the boredom, the futility of this play which Chekhov subtitled Scenes From Country Life in Four Acts.

Nicholas Le Prevost is an attractive , immensely likeable Vanya, full of regret for a life wasted in futile gestures and alcohol, whether giving up his inheritance for his sister and her child or keeping the estate going so that Serebryakov (Ronald Pickup) can be supported as an academic in the city. He maybe less hapless than some Vanyas but he's very empathetic. His niece Sonya (Loo Brealey) looks weary with the cares of the estate which have fallen to her. The contrast between Sonya and the beautiful, but indolent Yelena (Michelle Dockery) is hard to stomach. The difficult truth is that Astrov (Neil Pearson) can't return Sonya's feelings. The Professor makes a much anticipated entrance and we expect to think badly of him. After all Marina the nanny (Antonia Pemberton) has told us what an inconsiderate guest he is keeping the samovar on the boil all day awaiting his rising and Vanya later echoes her words with complaints of his own.

Ronald Pickup's Serebryakov is a very old man, making his decision to sell the estate the selfishness of old age rather than mere thoughtlessness. As he puts it, "Since I've grown old, I've become repellent, even to myself." (Faith Brook's Maria, Vanya's mother, too reminds of the insensitivity of old age and the damage of favouritism.) But what the professor does is to bring with him the beautiful but bored Yelena (Michelle Dockery). She has lovely dark eyes and remarkably arched eyebrows, film star looks, reminding me of Ava Gardner with her luxuriant black hair gracefully caught up in an ornate style. Miss Dockery acts with her raised eyebrows but her penetrating dark eyes are full of ennui. "It's September already, " she says, "How are we going to get through the winter?" Yelena's impact is to disrupt the status quo, to remind Vanya and Astrov of what they do not have and Sonya of what she can never be. Astrov describes Yelena in this translation as "a beautiful, fluffy little weasel." Neil Pearson's Astrov is weary too despite his enthusiasms as he self medicates with alcohol.

I wonder whether if Chekhov had been born in another era whether his plays would have been so affecting, set as they are at the end of one outmoded economic system which needs to make way for another in the next couple of decades. While Astrov the doctor would seem to represent the playwright's concerns for society, this 1999 translation from Stephen Mulrine gives him a speech on growing trees and preventing climate change which I found anachronistic.

The set is like The Rose theatre decor— wooden floors and ash grey painted wooden chairs, soft and pretty but dominated by a tree with coppery leaves to remind us that we are in the country. A map of Africa dominates the easel in the closing scenes, maybe as a representation of where the Serebryakovs may find a future as they talk about going to Harcourt.

In the quiet tragedy of the final scene, we are treated to a succession of those left behind in turn entering and saying as if for the first time, "They've gone" the sole topic of conversation in this country house with the departure of the interesting Yelena. We laugh at the repetition but also feel the loss. And even as Vanya and Telegin and Sonya tell us that they can't stand it anymore, they each fling their hands up in the air making comedy out of despair.

There were a few concerns on opening night with some of the sightlines in the new 900 seat theatre but I could hear every word. The audience are seated on three levels and curve round towards the playing area, maybe occupying three quarters of the twelve sided area. Patrons who bring their own cushions can sit on the floor in front of the stalls to see the plays. I am thrilled that the seats at The Rose have some padding, plenty of leg room and are much more comfortable than authentic wooden benches.

Editor's Note: For more about Chekhov and links to other reviews of his plays, including other Uncle Vanyas, see our Chekhov backgrounder

Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Peter Hall

Starring: Michelle Dockery, Nicholas Le Prevost
With: Ronald Pickup, Antonia Pemberton, Faith Brook, Loo Brealey, Neil Pearson, David Ganly, Mark Extance
Design: Alison Chitty
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Gregory Clarke
Composer: Mick Sands
An English Touring Theatre Production
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0871 230 1552
Booking at The Rose, Kingston to 9th February 2008
and then on tour to
Theatre Royal Bath 12th - 16th February 2008
Cambridge Arts Theatre 19th — 23rd February 2008
Brighton Theatre Royal 26th February— 1st March 2008
York Theatre Royal 4th — 8th March 2008
Guildford's Yvonne Arnaud 11th— 15th March 2008
Northern Stage, Newcastle 18th — 22nd March 2008
Milton Keynes 26th — 29th March 2008
Malvern Theatres 1st — 5th April 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th January 2008 performance at The Rose, 24-26 High Street, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 1HL (Rail: Kingston from Waterloo then an eight minute walk)
London Theatre Walks

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

©Copyright 2008, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from