REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (HOME, Manchester)

 © Jonathan Keenan
© Jonathan Keenan
Upstaged Rating: 

Taking inspiration from the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, HOME Manchester present Andrew Upton’s beautifully touching translation of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.

Over one hundred and fifty years have passed since Chekov’s birth and his plays have become almost as much part of British theatre’s repertoire as Shakespeare. Uncle Vanya is a complete masterpiece – portraying a society on the brink of change and an uncertain political climate – it was a revolutionary play for its time, written twenty years before the Russian Revolution. Most startlingly, to a modern audience, Uncle Vanya offers a timely commentary about the world we inhabit right now.

Director Walter Meierjohann has brought this deeply layered and finely nuanced production to complete fruition. Fascinating and truly absorbing, every word resonates and strikes new meaning – Meierjohann has teased and provoked to create a stunning theatrical feast which resonates powerfully with a contemporary audience.

Nick Holder’s Uncle Vanya straddles the tragicomic, playing the title role in a way Chekov would have applauded. Emerging as a yawning buffoon, then doe-eyed and needy, as he fawns over the Professor’s beautiful wife, Yelena. Holder interweaves comedy and anguish perfectly giving the best Vanya that I have ever seen.

Chekhov’s work is always about the ensemble and there is a host of top-notch performances in this production. Katie West gives us a gentle, diligent and honest Sonya against Hara Yannas’ beautifully elegant but idle Yelena. David Fleeshman’s gout-ridden Professor is suitably embittered by the onset of old age; Jason Merrells is brilliant as Astrov, a character who was viewed as a visionary and radical outsider at the time the play was first written; now, Astrov and his passionate appeals to plant seeds, nurture our environment and take responsibility for our society, strikes a resounding chord.

A self-playing piano haunts the characters from the back of the stage and provides a melancholic musical score composed by Marc Tritschler. The unkempt estate that the characters inhabit is suggested perfectly by Steffi Wuster’s minimalist though effective set design.

This production is completely consuming. Like a beautiful meal, I leave HOME feeling content and full with no bitter aftertaste.

-Kristy Stott

Uncle Vanya runs at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 25th November 2017 and you can get your tickets here.

 

 

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