Robert Icke famously burst onto the stage with his adaptation of the Oresteia at The Almeida last year, that was rightfully praised as one of he best pieces of Theatre last year. This time he has returned to the Almeida to tackle Chekhov.
This production may put people off at 3 Hours and 15 minutes long, but I urge you not to worry. We are given 3 x 10 minute intervals and this play moves a long at a lovely pace, despite it's sense of lethargy, boredom and procrastination. This adaptation is intensely interesting on several levels. Icke has updated the play and Anglicised the names wonderfully, (this is usually not done well and I am against it). What Icke has also done is to retain, what Chekhov would have loved, and that's the comedy. Chekhov always thought people took his work too seriously. Here the comedy is truly brilliant and utterly truthful, and that then allows the moments of dramatic tension to gain fill weight and shine through with complete devastation.
When Paul Rhys' wiry and beautiful Vanya has his breakdown his plight is tenderly moving as is that of the journey his niece Sonya goes on, ,or rather sadly doesn't go on! It is deeply moving and Icke has gotten superb performances from his cast. It is a true study of mental health and bi-polar disorder as well as the fear of mortality. This production is slick and painful. The last few minutes perhaps could have been paced a little better but otherwise it was spot on in my view.
One thing to mention is that the set (a raised box) turned slowly on a revolve through-out. Something done to utterly powerful effect in the Young Vic's 'A Streetcar Named Desire' a couple of years ago. Uncle Vanya doesn't seem to pull off the same kind of superb coop like that latter production (where the sets movement was intrinsic to Blanche Du Bois' mental state). The revolving set was still an interesting idea, particularly in it's relation to the thought of time slowly turning on and on. One thing however was that when the set at one point changed direction, there was no clear reason (certainly to me) why it had done this. In 'Streetcar' when the revolving set swung the other way it was because it seemed to be connected to Blanche's fragile mental state, I didn't see a parallel with the set and Vanya here. The only other issue was that very often the wooden set creaked and cracked (or tapped) away making rather obtrusive noises , at times, when turning. But this final point is completely minor to what is one of the best Vanya's I have seen in a long while.