A stopped clock hovers over Lev Dodin’s Uncle Vanya. It’s the perfect backdrop to a staging that crystallises the stifling ennui and listlessness of Anton Chekhov’s provincial play. The slowness of movement in the summer heat, the predetermined destinies of the characters, and the sorrow of repressed desires form the lifeblood of this splendid production.
Yet the Maly Drama Theatre’s rendering of Chekhov (premiered in 2003 and performed in Russian) also buzzes with a vivacity and energy very rarely present in performances of the Russian playwright’s work.
Sergei Kuryshev’s Vanya skips between playing the role of house jester – dancing in a floppy straw hat or tipping Elena’s rocking chair about – and being a physically intimidating, almost scary, presence. His tragedy is that of the Shakespearean fool.
The other revelations are Sonia (Ekaterina Tarasova) and Elena (Ksenia Rappoport), who both become fleshed-out, witty, desirous women, instead of doll-like figures in long skirts.
The action plays out under the claustrophobic, yellow heat of Pavel Efimov and Alexander Pospelov’s lighting, which burns to an amber conflagration in the final scene. The entrapment is magnified by the ominous, towering haystacks of David Borovsky’s design.
In a year when two radical reinterpretations of Chekhov also play in London (Dead Centre’s Chekhov’s First Play  and RashDash’s Three Sisters), this is Chekhov done the traditional way. But there’s nothing trite or staid about Dodin’s gorgeous take which captures the quintessential Chekhovian brittleness where a laugh could just as easily be a sob.