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The Russians have arrived! Don’t panic, though, it not an invasion (yet), it’s Moscow’s Mossovet State Academic Theatre, here with two Chekhov plays performed in the great dramatist’s native tongue (with English surtitles).
Will they show us decadent Westerners how their premiere playwright is staged? Director Andrei Konchalovsky’s very enjoyable ‘Uncle Vanya’ certainly goes some way to demonstrating how brilliantly silly Chekhov’s often tragic figures can be.
Here, Vanya is the endearing but ultimately ridiculous man forced into a thankless life. He fawns over his brother-in-law’s glamorous new wife, while all the rest of the motley crew who come in and out of his house complain, fall in love and generally make a complete balls-up of their lives. It’s a beautiful, poignant play with several searching souls at its heart. It’s also a testament to the complete absurdity of man’s woes.
The absurdity, rather than the woe, is brought to the fore in Konchalovsky’s production, with Vanya played as a giggling, clown-like figure by the excellent Pavel Derevyanko, a contrast to his rival in love, the charming, dynamic Mikhail Lvovich Astrov played by a commanding Alexander Domogarov. The rest of the cast also play for laughs, talking over each other and laughing at each other. Their timing is infinitely impressive, the pace energetic and they embue the situation with a down-to-earth reality.
There are a couple of strange directorial decisions: odd projections of modern, car-strewn city scenes hint at a changing country, but it’s not a concept that’s followed through. The production also suffers from some clunky scene changes which interrupt the action.
The show is certainly no dud, though, and it’s a treat to hear the play in its original language.