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Uncle Vanya review at Hope Theatre, London – ‘a traditional, abridged staging’

Tales Retold's Uncle Vanya at Hope Theatre, London. Photo: Cameron Harle
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As its name suggests, Tales Retold is a company that attempts to find alternative ways to explore classic texts. It scored a hit with an all-female Antigone last year and now tackles Chekhov.

Despite the company’s mission statement, James Stone’s production is a fairly respectful, traditional adaptation, given a period flourish with some appropriate furniture and unobtrusive lighting design from Chris McDonnell. Jim Armstrong’s sound, however, with its heavy use of background noises occasionally overpowers the action.

The major change here is Brendan Murray’s abridged translation, which has been heavily truncated and suffers for it. The characters are given no time to establish themselves. It feels like something integral to the fabric of this story has been stripped out. The narrative remains intact but the undercurrents have been diluted and there’s nothing fresh or revelatory to take their place, despite some engaging and emotive performances.

Gilly Daniels is charming as Marina, solving life’s problems with tea or a shot of vodka. Cassandra Hodges is a stoic Sonya, consigning herself to spinsterhood and heaven in a single speech. Adrian Wheeler is a deft Vanya, walking the thin line between middle-age and a mid-life crisis with humour and pathos. If nothing else, this version proves a reminder that Chekhov’s play is as much about the passage of time as it is about dysfunctional families.

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Abridged staging of Chekhov’s play that loses much of its charm and power despite some fine performances