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A CurtainUp London Review
So what has gone so badly wrong? First the casting. Anna Friel is a very pretty actress but she lacks the stage presence of the luminescent Yelena, whom everyone has to fall in love with. With some disastrous green leg of mutton type sleeves (even these weren’t right as they looked more like long loofahs stuck on her arms) and slightly stooped, she just wasn’t the sparkling beauty the play is meant to centre around. Samuel West, an actor I greatly admire seems wrong and rather lifeless as Astrov and he and Ken Stott as Vanya have none of the camaraderie essential to the play. Laura Carmichael plays the long suffering Sonya, with a whining voice which counters Sonya’s upbeat personality as she tries to make the best of her situation. Paul Freeman’s Serebriakov is so elderly to be completely in his dotage and so bad tempered with ugly complaining that we cannot understand why Yelena married him, yet alone why Madame Voynitsky (Anna Carteret) defends him. Only Vanya is the character for whom we can have any liking but that is not enough for Chekhov’s tragi-comedy to work.
The boxed set within the Vaudeville’s proscenium is a disaster: we sit through three scene changes of the distressed green wooden surround for seemingly pointless, different arrangements of furniture and lit low for more doom and gloom. There is no sense of place, no sense of this critical point in Russia’s history when the conditions will be ripe for a revolution. Listening to the cast, it is like it is raining tedium, uncomfortable, awkward and a series of solilioquies I never remember being aware of before in Uncle Vanya.
True Uncle Vanya is a tale of the tedium of country life but what this production does is to put its audience through that tedium rather than raising occasional glimpses of humour and insight. It is as if they have all died and gone to hell and this wooden hell has Lindsay Posner at the helm.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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