Uncle Vanya

There is a scene in HOME’s Uncle Vanya where Yelena, the young wife of an aged professor, holds Uncle Vanya’s hand in a very intimate way, suggesting emotional closeness.  He tells her that he loves her, but she pulls her hand away, offended.  Uncle Vanya does not know how to break the barriers in his mind and in his life.  Yelena does not know how to deal with emotions outside her social norms.

Walter Meierjohann’s production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya is a thing of sparse beauty, an exploration of fatalism and personal choice in a world where only vodka sets people free.  Characters search their past for clues about the future but do little to effect change.  Only the visiting Professor, who represents form over substance, has the ability to make anything of his life.  Even the talented, environmentally aware, doctor Astrov is too far ahead of his own time to make something of his life.  Are they waiting for ‘society’ to change?  In the central role of Uncle Vanya, Nick Holder delivers a performance full of complexity, confliction and self-analysis.

Everything about this play suggests melancholy with a touch of hope.  The pace of the play is beautifully measured, allowing us to consider every word spoken by each character, giving the production space to breathe despite the close atmosphere of the play.  The imposing set, its faded walls stretching right to the top of the stage, offers the characters space to reflect on their lives.  The sound design is superb, lighting is horizontal and intense.  The use of direct address to the audience suggests not a confidence, but a hope that somewhere, somehow, there is an answer.

What comes across most strongly in this production is that we are seeing these people in a snapshot of their lives.  We can see their personal trajectories, where they have come from, and we can predict where they are going to end up.  Their own failings and their fatalism suggest that despite their unhappiness, they are individually unable to change the paths of their lives.  They are trapped between their own limitations and the tight social norms.  This is where the hope emerges in this play.  That we do have the chance to control our own destinies; that the world in which we live might change for the better; that when we have choices we need to make them well.

HOME Manchester, 3-25 November.  Link here.

Photo by Jonathan Keenan

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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