Uncle Vanya, Noel Coward Theatre, London
Tuesday 06 November 2012
The coincidence looks as if it might have been contrived by some ironic wag. A mere three days after the opening of Lindsay Posner's revival of Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville, the West End now plays host to this wildly alternative approach to the same play by Rimas Tuminas and the Moscow-based Vakhtangov company.
The contrast of styles could scarcely be more striking. The English production is solidly traditional, respectful, at times subtle, but also a tad constipated in its emotional reserve and its heavy, literal-minded, cramping sets. The Russian production goes for broke in the opposite direction. There's a blackly ebullient abandon to their extraordinary account of Chekhov's great tragicomedy of wasted potential and blighted dreams. Out go the samovars, the birch trees and the Stanislavkian realism. In come a kind of Expressionist slapstick that's calculated to show how listless despair and manic hilarity can be flip-sides of the same coin and a sparsely junky non-naturalistic design.
The thwarted energies of the characters erupt in startling outbursts such as when Sergey Makovetsky's crumpled, dumpy Vanya shakes off a fit of the blues by taking Maria Berdinskikh's waif-like but determined Sonya for a mad, victory-saluting ride round the stage on an iron plough. Mood swings are underlined by sardonically bathetic shifts of register in Faustas Latenas's continuous brooding-to-puckish musical soundtrack.
Drinking is an overly decorous business in the concurrent English production, but here hooch is unceremoniously siphoned off from a great jar by Vladimir Vvdovichenkov's strapping, charismatically volatile Dr Astrov, a figure much given to forcibly re-positioning the other folk, including (still upright in her chair) the aged, battily eccentric nanny portrayed by the remarkable 97 year old actress, Galina Konovalova.
Not all of it works. The habit, say, of having the characters declaim to the audience rather than speak to each other is not conducive to the eliciting of nuances. But Anna Dubrovskaya, rolling a provocative silver hoop between suitors, is a seductively sultry and statuesque Elena who can also descend with aplomb to erotic broad farce. And Vladimir Simonov's hilarious Professor is so imperturbable in his sense of superiority to Vanya that he even puffs out his chest and invites the bosh gun shots. When Benedict Andrews tried something along similar lines with Three Sisters at the Young Vic recently, the result struck me as forced and lacking in inner drive. This Uncle Vanya by contrast feels as if it pouring from the collective soul of the company.
To Nov 10; 0844 4825140
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Alien thigh bone' on Mars: Excitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
- 2 West poised to join forces with President Assad in face of Islamic State
- 3 Mother fed her daughter tapeworms to make her skinny for pageant
- 4 Pamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals: 'Mice had holes drilled into their skulls'
- 5 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
The Hateful Eight trailer: Teaser for Quentin Tarantino film leaks early
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile