Confrontation, Catharsis and Crisis: Our Critics watch Uncle Vanya (for Parterre Box)

David Fox: Well, Cameron—I don’t usually start to tear up before the curtain rises on a Chekhov play, but today I did. In the preamble to this filmed version of Uncle Vanya, a supertitle tells us matter-of-factly that on March 16, 2020, the cast was sent home from the Pinter Theatre in London’s West End, due to the pandemic, of course. (The production, directed by Ian Rickson, had opened to rave reviews just six weeks before.) Months later, the cast was allowed to return to an empty theater to record it on film. One by one, we see the principals arriving at the eerily empty building. Something about watching them—masked and in street clothes, struggling with umbrellas—was almost unbearably emotional for me. If you know Vanya, you likely will have already intuited the poignant resonance here to the play itself, which is set in a summer house, long in disrepair and largely ignored by its owner, as it comes back to a new life of uncertainty. The video gives us a wonderful opening to a wonderful show—not only the best Vanya I’ve ever seen, but among the most cohesive and convincing of any Chekhov production in my experience.

Cameron Kelsall: It’s an almost unforgivable cliché for a critic to say that something speaks to the current moment—especially if it was written by Shakespeare or a long-dead Russian—but really, I struggle to think of a work that so seamlessly grapples with the emotions we’ve been feeling over the last 12 months, that allows for confrontation and catharsis but doesn’t actually reference the ongoing crisis at hand. I agree that on its own merits, this stands among the finest assumptions of Vanya on the English-speaking stage, and it should dispel the long-held idea that British artists are not adept at Chekhov. This is a fallacy frequently disproven, but really given the hook here. Almost to a person, every actor is as good as any I’ve encountered in these roles, and in some cases, the absolute best. (More on that shortly.) Rickson and Conor McPherson, acting as adaptor, have captured the humor and heartbreak of this play as very few can, including to show how often they co-exist. This is a must-see, and an overwhelming experience…

Click here to read the complete post at Parterre Box.

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