The third in Anya Reiss's trilogy of modern adaptations of Chekhov plays is a playing-it-for-laughs 'Uncle Vanya'.
For the third in her series of modern adaptations of Chekhov plays, young playwright Anya Reiss takes ‘Uncle Vanya’ (set in a nineteenth-century country estate in Russia), and plonks it on a farm somewhere in the north of England, around about now.
Apart from the occasional reference to Sharia law, iPads, the internet and cars (rather than carriages), this is a pretty faithful version of Chekhov’s tragi-comedy. The very subtle transition to modern day is believable (although the conflicting accents onstage make it quite difficult to locate the action precisely), and the main difference to the play is that Reiss has slimmed the text.
As a result, she’s lost a little of the eponymous anti-hero: Vanya (John Hannah) and his excruciating frustration with life, doesn’t loom so large over the action. It means there’s less soul, less torment and less poetry than the original.
Hannah deals well with what he’s given, producing a quirky interpretation of the lovesick, downtrodden uncle who runs his dead sister’s farm with his niece Sonya for her academic father Serebryakov. Hannah’s Vanya dosses in the summer heat, wearing open shirts, torn denim shorts and crocs. Obsessed with the visiting Serebryakov’s pretty young wife, he huffs and puffs and flops around after her, his clothes stained with the memory of the farm work which once gave him focus.
Russell Bolam’s strong cast mostly play it for laughs. Alan Francis’s Telygin tinkers on the guitar during scene changes and generally acts the fool, while Joe Dixon adds to the humour with a boisterous portrayal of the drunken doctor Astrov (distinct strains of Brian Blessed in ‘Flash Gordon’). But ultimately this version dilutes rather than enhances ‘Uncle Vanya’. And what’s the point in that?