Anton Chekhov is one of the most English among Russian playwrights. If you doubt it, Conor McPherson‘s adaptation of ‘Uncle Vanya’ directed by Ian Rickson is at your service at the Harold Pinter Theatre.

The play was published in Moscow in 1898, but the situation in which all its characters find themselves, their complicated interpersonal relationships, misunderstandings, and unrequited loves look modern and familiar. The bridge between Moscow of 120 years ago and nowadays London gets even shorter thanks to modern language and humour. I have never heard the Russian audience laugh as much during Chekhov’s classic as the English public did during the new West End production. Both Richard Armitage and Tobi Jones showed a surprising talent for comedy.


Designer Rae Smith created costumes that look out of time and transport us from Chekhov’s Russia to the modern English countryside. Some female characters wear trousers, and you will not see corsets or puffs and frills on the stage. The whole action takes place in the same dining room. Despite the disorder and degrade, it still looks very cosy.

The only piece of furniture that changes its role is a table. At the opening, it is a dining table around which the lives of the characters change in a dramatic way, while they are simply having tea. And at the end of the story it turns into a desk as if to symbolise the end of something extraordinary and chaotic, and the beginning of ordinary life with its rhythmic regularity, order, and stability.

Three big names make the cast list shine like the Milky Way: Toby Jones as uncle Vanya, Richard Armitage as Dr Astrov, and Ciaran Hinds as their antagonist Professor Serebryakov. Their names need no introduction.


Aimee Lou Wood‘s (Sex Education) acting as Sonya is sincere and touching, but it is also an evident case of miscasting, because you can’t believe her character is a country girl with low self-esteem and not blessed with physical beauty.

Rosalind Eleazar, who plays Sonya’s stepmother, Yelena, unfortunately didn’t manage to use her potential to portray a bohemian femme fatale who made every breathing being fall in love with her. Her love story with Dr Astrov does not look believable, and there is more artistic chemistry between Richard Armitage and Toby Jones.


‘Uncle Vanya’ will be on at The Harold Pinter Theatre, London, until 2 May.