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Uncle Vanya review at Home, Manchester – ‘spellbindingly acted’

Scene from Uncle Vanya at Home, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan
Scene from Uncle Vanya at Home, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan

Few plays capture the devastating nihilism of depression quite as acutely as Chekhov's Uncle Vanya.

Andrew Upton's intense new version – originally produced by Sydney Theatre Company in 2010 – offers an achingly tender and clear-sighted modern take on it. At least four of its characters are also in the grip of unrequited love addictions, and with one character also predicting the impact of deforestation and climate change, it's made to feel like astonishingly prescient play as well. (There's a great Gogol joke, too; Upton knows his Russian theatre, as he's proved with his versions of other plays at the National).

All of these dark colours and textures are teased out with piercing clarity and heartbreaking self-awareness in Walter Meierjohann's European-inspired production.

Designer Steffi Wurster has enclosed the characters in an oppressively high-walled house where the wallpaper is peeling and there’s a self-playing piano mounted on the rear wall. The staging captures both the tenderness and tensions that are being played out as the Professor (David Fleeshman) and his beautiful, much younger wife Yelena (a languid Hara Yannas) wreak both economic and emotional havoc on the household of his late first wife.

Underscored by Marc Tritschler and Melanie Wilson's brooding, deliberately intrusive soundtrack, there's despair in abundance. Nick Holder brings a rumpled physicality to Vanya, palpably wearing his unhappiness and the weight of the world on his shoulders; while Katie West's Sonya yearns with unfulfilled desire for Jason Merrells' Doctor Astrov, both of them understatedly magnificent as they face themselves and each other with real honesty.

But the play's achievement – and this production's triumph – is to invest all this hopelessness with hope, too. Life will and must go on. So should this production; let’s hope it has a longer life elsewhere.

Verdict
Chekhov's masterpiece is spellbindingly acted in a brilliant new version of the play
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