Review: Uncle Vanya at Arcola Theatre, Dalston

Helena Kaut–Howson’s Uncle Vanya at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre is a lively and enjoyable revival of a Chekhov classic – otherwise feared by some first-timers as daunting and drearily heavy-going.

The Polish-born director’s new translation portrays middle class, middle age mediocrity with wit, as cast members take on the playwright’s motley crew of characters with famous delight.

Jon Strickland’s Uncle Vanya is a frustrated, quarrelsome farmer who threatens to kill himself in the first act and is dangerously close to looking like a stupid old fool.

The humdrum lives of him and his family are turned upside down when the former husband of Vanya’s late sister, a renowned academic, and his beautiful young wife arrive on their estate.

Marianne Oldham plays Yelena with fatal attraction – constantly trapped in everyone else’s obsession of how outstandingly beautiful she is. She is surprisingly human, despite the over-dramatic chest heaving, and breaks away from the assumption that everyone is looking for a stunning, young and successful body to love.


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Hara Yannas is a crude contrast in the role of Sonya, Vanya’s countrified and more plain-looking niece – made clear in the centre-parting of her hair – but it is Simon Gregor who holds the audience in his palm as the drunkard doctor Astrov.

Kaut –Howson’s reworking aims to shake off convention for a truer portrayal of Chekhov’s original meaning through the unusual use of music and more experimental staging. The one isolated dream scene sits awkwardly on its own, but the set design and sound brings to story to life so much that you can smell the dinner on the table and hear the flies buzzing around your ears.

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So wrapped up do you become in the characters’ lives that the dreadful realization – that nothing has really happened – only hits when they grasp it themselves. The joke is ultimately on us all. But like any good trick, it keeps you transfixed throughout.

Uncle Vanya runs at Arcola Theatre in Ashwin Street until June 4.

The show starts at 7.30pm. Tickets cost �17 or �11 for concessions.

For more information or to book, call the box office on 020 7503 1646 or go to www.arcolatheatre.com.

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