Even by Chekhov's standards, this is a play where not much happens. Like Vanya and his niece, Sonya, working devotedly for her father, Serebryakov (ostensibly their landlord), all we have are the people around us: the servants; the dipsomaniac doctor Sonya loves; and now Serebryakov himself and his much younger wife, Yelena, whose discontented beauty is such a welcome distraction from the souring of long-cherished dreams.
Christopher Hampton's adaptation is fine but almost everything else in Lindsay Posner's production is misconceived, from the lugubrious wooden set to Anna Friel's leg-of-mutton sleeves: why, in a Russian play set sometime before 1899, have they done her up like an Edwardian matron? Friel has Yelena's looks but not her beguiling apathy: she's less a human fog than a firecracker deprived of a fuse.
Only Ken Stott, as Vanya, is properly tragic – he pulsates with misery. When he's onstage, we are glad to be trapped with him in this loveless mire: we watch his admiration for his brother-in-law drift a little farther every time Yelena wafts past, and mourn with him his loss of the one and his failure to capture the other. Still, it's hard to believe that even in stultifying pre-revolutionary Russia such a seemingly strongly personality would really have suffered the fate Chekhov so elegantly yet implacably sketched out for him.