Vanya review: Andrew Scott’s take on Chekhov is funny, sexy and surprisingly emotional

‘Fleabag’ star plays all eight characters at the Duke of York’s theatre in a refreshingly lively one-man ‘Uncle Vanya’

Alice Saville
Friday 22 September 2023 14:11 BST
Scott shifts between the different characters with an endless wit and energy
Scott shifts between the different characters with an endless wit and energy (Marc Brenner)

I had doubts about whether even a towering acting talent like Andrew Scott could make a one-man version of Uncle Vanya feel like more than a gimmick. But Fleabag’s hot priest has delivered a performance that Chekhov fans will want to fall to their knees and adore: the funniest, sexiest, most surprisingly emotional take on this story of rural desolation that you could wish for.

Simon Stephens’s lean one-hour-40-minute version shifts the action from turn-of-the-century Russia to 20th-century Ireland. We’re marooned on a desolate farm where folk songs trickle from the battery-powered radio, and housekeeper Maureen (rechristened from the original’s Marina) calls Ivan (aka the titular Vanya) a “silly little sausage”. And Ivan really has been put through life’s mincer, chewed up and spat out. He’s devoted himself to the service of superannuated wunderkind Alexander, managing his country estate while this supposed genius lives a smart life in town with his infuriatingly beautiful young wife Helena.

In a psychologically astute touch from Stephens, Alexander becomes an auteur film director, and Ivan’s labours are the ultimate tribute of a superfan who watches his idol’s movies every night. “His only successful films are adaptations,” Ivan says bitterly, in a self-referential nod to this play’s origins, as the scales fall from his eyes.

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