Uncle Vanya

The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, has scored a major triumph in securing the services of Sir Trevor Nunn to direct his faithful adaptation of Uncle Vanya in a production that has all the warmth, attention to detail and style one would expect from the former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre.With him, Casting Director Matilda James CDG has assembled an outstanding cast of accomplished actors who embrace the naturalism that Chekhov demands and the style of performance that would have have characterised the original production directed by Stanislavski in 1899, albeit with the benefit of developments in his method since then.

A delight from beginning to end

There are probably many joys to be had from owning an estate in the country, but if you feel bound to be there for a large part of the year the pleasures can wear thin and the tedium of a rural existence can make life seem hardly worth living. Ennui fills the air in the confines of the house and the dreams of a changed existence take many forms. The Professor observes, “I cannot go on living in the country. Human beings were not meant to live in the wild”. It’s just one example of the subtle dry humour that permeates the play and that is so well delivered.

The intimate setting if the Orange Tree again enhances a production that is set in a claustrophobic house, meticulously designed by Simon Daw, moodily lit by Johanna Town and soundscaped by Max Pappenheim. It is home to the elderly Professor Serebryakov (William Chubb). Previously widowed, he now has a glamorous young wife, Elena (Lily Sacofsky) with a significant age gap between them. Sonya (Madeleine Gray) his daughter by his first marriage, lives there as does her eponymous Uncle Vanya (James Lance), who manages the estate. She is regarded as ‘plain’ and although of an age to marry is making no progress in that direction. Enter Astrov (Andrew Richardson), the eligible and handsome local doctor who also stays at the house from time to time as the Professor has ongoing medical demands and he lives some distance away. Despite their many conversations Astrov is not attracted to Sonya, though she is besotted with him, he but does have a reciprocated passion for Elena, leading him and the two ladies into many tangled moments. Others add to the household. Telegin (David Ahmad), nicknamed Waffles on account of his pockmarked skin, is a dependent of the family and lives on the estate, Marina (Juliet Garricks), is the mature nurse/housekeeper and Maria (Susan Tracy), the widowed mother of Vanya. The lives of all are thrown into disarray when the Professor announces his intention to sell the house and they are forced to rethink their futures.

The cast make realistic, idiosyncratic individuals out of all the characters. Chubb’s Professor is detached in his own world of academia and aloof from everyday life, while Lance contrasts with his cranky Vanya and between them Richardson is the man most in touch with reality and his emotions. Sacofsky and Gray have several charming scenes together in which the woman who seemingly has everything laments the shortcomings of her position and the one who so wants to be loved cannot overcome her insecurities.

Altogether, Nunn’s production is a delight from beginning to end and Checkov’s play often surprises with its humour and environmental concerns of about deforestation and population growth.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

"I cannot go on living in the country. Human beings were not meant to live in the wild."

Sonya and her Uncle Vanya lead an uneventful life on their country estate, animated only by visits from the dashing local doctor. But when Sonya’s famous father and his glamorous new wife unexpectedly turn up, old grudges return and new desires ignite. In the heat of summer, tempers boil over and forbidden lusts threaten to end in catastrophe.  

An unmissable opportunity to see a theatrical masterpiece in the most intimate surroundings featuring a stellar cast: Emmy Award-nominated James Lance (Trent Crimm in Ted Lasso) plays Vanya with Andrew Richardson (Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls at the Bridge Theatre, Evening Standard Award nominee) as Astrov, alongside David Ahmad (The Crucible, National Theatre), William Chubb (This House, The History Boys, National Theatre), Juliet Garricks (The Doctor, Park Avenue Armory, New York, and Almeida Theatre), Madeleine Gray (A Murder Has Been Arranged, Theatre Royal Windsor), Lily Sacofsky (Three Days in the Country, National Theatre) and Susan Tracy (A Chorus of Disapproval, Harold Pinter Theatre).

Trevor Nunn is the multi-award-winning former Artistic Director of the RSC and the National Theatre; he has previously staged Chekhov’s The Seagull and Three Sisters (RSC) and The Cherry Orchard (National Theatre), and now directs Uncle Vanya for the first time.

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