Theatre Royal Haymarket 15 – 17 May
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The Mali Drama Theatre of St Petersburg add a touch of light relief to their season at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with a delightful version of Uncle Vanya. Director Lev Dodin injects energy and humour into the most stifling of scenes without completely dissipating the sense of hopelessness and ennui of Chekhov’s characters.
On a simple set with the bare minimum of props, the focus is on the actors, and yet again this company excels. Hearing Chekhov performed in Russian is a real treat.
The inactivity and lethargy of the household as they tiptoe around Professor Serebryakov (the wonderfully understated Igor Ivanov) is portrayed with a charming comedic lightness, with Sergei Kuryshev’s grand clowning gestures making Uncle Vanya more manic and desperate in this stifled house. Dodin pushes Sonia (Ekaterina Tarasova) and Elena (Ksenia Rappoport) to the forefront, and the two actors ensure their characters are much meatier than in some productions. Their bonding scene is a joy to watch and this is where Rappoport’s physical comedy talent is first seen after playing aloof and intense earlier in the play.
I really didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did, after watching many of this cast in the intense Life and Fate, but the deftness of comic timing, gestures and glances is incredible. Of course, being Chekhov, the ending isn’t exactly uplifting, but the simple shift of scenery, where the rafters of the house seem to finally crush Vanya and Sonia, and not just their spirit, is a remarkably effective choice.
With only 3 performances, this production of Uncle Vanya is a hidden gem that is unmissable for lovers of Chekhov, or just lovers of theatre.