Simon Stephens after Anton Chekhov, co-created by Andrew Scott
Wessex Grove, Gavin Kalin Productions and Kater Gordon
Duke of York’s Theatre

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Andrew Scott Credit: Marc Brenner
Andrew Scott Credit: Marc Brenner
Andrew Scott Credit: Marc Brenner

Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which premièred in 1899, is generally considered to be one of the great plays of the 20th century. Not that you would know it from this revival.

In 1962 at Chichester Festival Theatre, there was a production of the play with an unrivalled cast, which included Laurence Olivier as Astrov, Michael Redgrave as Vanya, Joan Plowright as Sofia, Joan Greenwood as Yelena, Max Adrian as the Professor, Sybil Thorndike as the Nurse, Lewis Casson as Waffles and Fay Compton as Maman.

Sixty years on, Simon Stephens's radical new version, which is co-created by actor Andrew Scott, director Simon Yates and designer Rosanna Viz, is performed by just one actor, Andrew Scott, and runs for 1 hour and 45 minutes without interval.

The play has been modernised and the names of the characters anglicised. The selfish, bad-tempered professor, who infects everybody with his own idleness, is now an ailing filmmaker. The change of profession adds nothing whatsoever.

The question is: do you want to see Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya or do you want to see Andrew Scott giving a virtuoso performance? If you want to see Chekhov’s play, there no sense in going to the Duke of York’s Theatre. Even if you know the play, you are going to have difficulties in following what is actually going on.

Time has run out for the characters who live in a provincial backwater. Sacrifices have been made. There is no going back; there is only regret for the mediocrity, the banality and ugliness of their lives. They have been cheated, wasted, destroyed and all that is left is unhappiness, apathy and boredom. There is no hope for any of them. None of this comes across in this version.

Andrew Scott has acted in plays by Shakespeare (Hamlet), Eugene O’Neill (the younger son in Long Day’s Journey into Night) and the lead in two comedies by Noël Coward (Design for Living and Present Laughter). He has also played Oscar Wilde’s lover, Bosie Douglas, Sherlock Holmes’s enemy, master criminal Moriarty and the Hot Priest in Phoebe Walter-Bridge's Fleabag.

Scott is now playing the 47-year-old Vanya. He is also playing all the other characters, male and female, without change of costume and with just a slight change of gesture and occasionally with the aid of a cigarette, sunglasses and a tennis ball. He is not right for any of the eight roles and the characterisation is thin.

However, just watching him switching characters in an instant and delivering an unexpected double entendre (“Would you like to see my maps?”) was more than enough to set many in the audience voluble with delight. The one scene which does work is when the Professor announces he is selling the property and Vanya accuses him of ruining his whole life and tries to shoot him.

I am looking forward to seeing the talented (and almost certainly perfectly cast) Mr Scott on television as The Talented Mr Ripley, the career criminal, con artist and serial killer, who always gets away with his crimes.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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