Anna Friel shines in Chekhov's heartbreaking Uncle Vanya

Nov 6, 2012

Ken Stott falls for an exceptionally alluring Friel in Chekhov's melancholy masterpiece

Nobby Clark

What you need to know
A new production of Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya by award-winning theatre director Lindsay Posner has opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, West End. The adaptation is by Christopher Hampton, playwright and scriptwriter of Dangerous Liaisons.

Uncle Vanya tells the story of an acclaimed elderly professor and his much younger second wife, Yelena, who visit their rural family estate with plans to sell. The visit prompts the professor's brother-in-law, Vanya, to fall in unrequited love with Yelena and contemplate his lost youth and opportunities.

Ken Stott (best known for his television role as Rebus) is Vanya and Paul Freeman is the Professor. Anna Friel is Yelena.

Until 16 February.

What the critics like
You emerge from the production marvelling at Chekhov's astonishing daring, subtlety and emotional depth, says Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph. This fine production has an outstanding cast. Stott "marvellously captures" the play's contradictory mixture of comedy and despair as a middle-aged man in love with a younger woman, while Friel's Yelena is "exceptionally alluring".

Christopher Hampton's Vanya is limpid, faithful, sharp, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. Friel "captures the essence of Yelena" - her palpable boredom, self-knowledge and anguish. Paul Freeman as her gouty, irritable husband, full of rage against old age, provides "the play's most intense moment".

This is Chekhov's "most heartbreaking" play, says Libby Purves in The Times. Anna Friel gives Yelena a rounded reality, as well as being "silently  funny".

What they don't like
Director Lindsay Posner's timing is unfortunate, says Kate Bassett in The Independent. Lucy Bailey's recent off-West End Vanya was wittier, and now Vakhtangov Theatre's rival Russian production is opening at the Noel Coward theatre, "threatening to steal Posner's thunder".

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