Latest Review – Uncle Vanya (HOME, Manchester)


HOME, Manchester

Until Saturday 25th November, 2017

Glancing at the cold, damp-stained walls of designer Steffi Wurster’s bleak open set, one would be forgiven for feeling maybe a little melancholic, though thanks to Andrew Upton’s dynamic and delicately crafted translation of Chekhov’s major play (first presented by the Sydney Theatre Company back in 2012 starring Upton’s wife, Cate Blanchett), now staged as part of HOME’s A Revolution Betrayed? season, we leave the theatre feeling strangely hopeful, with Upton unearthing a gentle warmth and intensity as he probes the themes of hope, perseverance and unrequited love.

Uncle Vanya centres around the friction that ensues when the elderly Professor Serebrayakov and his much younger second wife Yelena return to his late first wife’s rural country estate which has for many years been managed for him by his former brother in law, ‘Uncle’ Vanya, and his young daughter, Sonya.

Vanya is principally concerned with the ideas of fatalism and wasted life, exploring the complex threads that link the various characters, the paths that have led them to where they now find themselves, and the futures they might end up in, though despite their self-awareness and confessions of unrequited love, it soon becomes frustratingly clear that nothing can truly be resolved. It is an incredibly poignant piece that sees its principle characters trapped by their own constraints and limitations, though thankfully the fatalistic does gradually begin to outshine the nihilistic, and despite all the doom and gloom, there is some hope in the fact that we do all have the opportunity to control our paths, if only we make the right choices.

Similar to what Polly Findlay achieved with HOME’s production of Ghosts last year, director Walter Meierjohann employs his signature minimalist approach to conjure a world that feels vaguely familiar, yet distorted just enough to distinguish it from one we might recognise.

Though the pace does drop on occasion – and the production slightly too long – Meierjohann’s nuanced production is beautifully staged and carefully considered, making excellent use of the large, confining set to strengthen the core themes of invisible suffering and longing, as well as drawing out some much needed wit and comedy to effectively break the underlying heartache that fuels the drama.

Performances are exceptional across the board, though standouts are Nick Holder as the tragi-comic Vanya, David Fleeshman as Serebrayakov, Katie West as a naive and timid Sonya and Jason Merrells as the prescient and environmentally conscious Astrov, desperate to convince the others of the dangers of deforestation and climate change (clear proof that Chekhov was far ahead of the time).

Marc Tritschler’s superb score gives a further dimension to the bleak, stripped back tone of the production, with the self-playing piano haunting throughout.

Running Time: 2 hours and 40-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at the HOME, Manchester: Saturday 25th November, 2017

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

Image: Nick Holder (Vanya)  in Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov, in a version by Andrew Upton, directed by Walter Meierjohann. Presented by HOME Manchester (Fri 3 – Sat 25 November 2017). Photo by Jonathan Keenan 

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