Uncle Vanya, Bath Theatre Royal

ONLY three days are left to see Rupert Everett’s stunning new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, adapted by David Hare.

This second main house play of the summer season started on 18th July but the planned press night had to be postponed when John Light, who plays the doctor Astrov, was injured. Back now on a crutch, his performance has all the intensity we expected from the man who was a memorable Dudley in Mary Stuart last year at Bath.

Uncle Vanya is perhaps the best known and most frequently performed of Chekhov’s plays, but remains elusive for directors, actors and audiences.  Between them, director Everett (who also plays the title role) and Hare have stripped away some of the longeurs, slightly rearranged the scenes and added a sprinkling of modern dialogue, and in so doing have intensified the drama and underlined its timeless universality.

Charles Quiggin’s beautiful set, lit by Rick Fisher, turns at the interval,  allowing the audience to look out at Russia, rather than in from its vast plains. It opens new insights into the play, the story of middle aged Vanya and his niece Sonya, her selfish father and their family home.

The production perfectly captures the enduring ennui of their lives, spent with family retainers, old friends and peasants on the land, while intellectuals hold sway in the cities.  Everett is a piratical Vanya, in his clothes and his anger, but his spirit was crushed long ago. His passion for Yelena is fleeting and he knows it is hopeless.

Sonya’s patient hope is perfectly caught by Katherine Parkinson, and Clemence Poesy manages to give some soul to Yelena, disappointed wife of Michael Byrne’s whingeing and manipulative Professor Serebry­akov.

John Light’s Astrov brings 21st century urgency to his plans to restore the devastated forests around the estate and to rebalance nature.

Running at just under two hours, this is Chekhov concentrated, capturing the humour, the longing and the passion. See it if you possibly can. Some seats remain for evening performances until Saturday 3rd August.


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