Much as I've accepted that I'll never get too excited about Chekhov, I'd never actually seen a production of Uncle Vanya so off I went to the dreaded new Studio 1 at the Arcola, where Helena Kaut-Howson directs a version by herself and Jon Strickland, who also plays the title role. Although not enough to convert me into a fan it's one of the better Chekhov productions I've seen; though the story has a predictably bleak heart there's a lot more humour than tends to make it onto the stage¹ and the cast are enthusiastic. They're all good but Hara Yannas is particularly moving as the plain girl overshadowed by the beautiful friend who's ended up becoming her stepmother. The production makes a lot of use of recorded sound (designed by Peter Bull) and has a lyrical quality. It's a decent enough production even if, like me, you don't love the playwright's work; if you do, I imagine this would be a must-see. One note though: I was on a corner seat where, Studio 1's odd shape being what it is, the actors had to constantly squeeze past me through a tiny space to make their entrances and exits. In the interval an usher had to ask me if she could move my seat somewhere else entirely² which was fine by me but it does make me wonder why, once again, a director and cast have got so far through blocking, rehearsing, even opening a show and performing it a number of times without realising that audiences have legs, and you might want to put your main entrance somewhere where those legs are not going to be.
Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in a version by Helena Kaut-Howson and Jon Strickland is booking until the 4th of June at Arcola Studio 1.
¹although not quite as much as a couple of people in the audience seemed to think, honking with hilarity as they did at lines that were, at best, wryly amusing; at worst clearly not meant to be funny at all
²apparently the show's not been sold out before, so my seat wasn't taken in previous performances and the problem hadn't arisen