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Vanya - National Theatre Live (UK)

Written by Anton Chekhov. Adapted by Simon Stephens. Directed by Sam Yates. 


Reviewed by Justin Clarke

National Theatre Live Screening

Filmed at the Duke of York’s Theatre, UK

Screening in Select Cinemas from 8th March


Andrew Scott's Vanya is - to use the clichés - a tour de force masterclass in acting where Chekhov falls by the wayside


In recent years we have seen the resurgence of the one-performer show wherein the performer takes on a multitude of characters. Take for instance Suzie Miller’s Olivier Award Winning Prima Facie or the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Joining the ranks of these stellar productions comes the latest offering from London’s National Theatre, a one-performer reimagining of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya starring the “Hot Priest” himself, Andrew Scott. To say this is a jaw-dropping performance would be doing Scott and director Sam Yates a brutal disservice, instead it is - to use the cliché - a true masterclass in acting.


Simply titled, Vanya, the NT: Live production, filmed at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London’s glittering West End elevates Scott’s performance entirely. Not having seen this - upsettingly - in the West End itself, one can only imagine the sheer presence that Scott would have had to create in the theatre’s space. It’s thankful then, that the filmed version is able to utilise new angles, close ups and slow zooms to enhance, hone in on and highlight key moments of anger, emotional torture and ennui. 



Andrew Scott in National Theatre Live's 'Vanya'. Images Marc Brenner


Adapted from Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime), the co-creation between Scott, Yates, Stephens and designer Rosanna Vize, contemporise Chekhov’s script, working the characters around the array of voices and shapes that come out of Scott at any given moment. The crux of the tragicomedy is still intact, with the love quadrangle between Sonia, Michael, Helena and the titular Vanya (anglicised to Ivan here) centres throughout the piece. The Chekhovian themes are still at play with references to the climate highlighted in an intimate slideshow, mid-life crisis’ and lust are energetically fuelled, and of course, there’s a gun.


However, despite the high stakes that the co-creators have put into the production, it can’t be helped that Chekhov’s words come second to Scott’s career-defining performance. This is Scott’s show through and through, consolidating him as one of the greatest working stage actors in modern society. This thought first crossed my mind when seeing Scott perform Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in 2017, and here it’s been confirmed. 


There are no great leaps and bounds between characters at play. Instead, Scott accentuates each one with a prop, movement or modulation of some sort. Helena is a poised woman, running her hands through a golden chain as she speaks. Ivan is erratic and love-lorn, his years of devotion to Alexander (here, a filmmaker) building to boiling point behind dark shades. Sonia is withdrawn, playing with a tea towel through her fingers. Margaret is all-encompassing, a cigarette poised perfectly between her fingertips. Michael is seductive, his voice low and with a twinge of Irish flitting through his teeth. At first, the changes are jarring as your mind eases into which character is which, especially for first timers unfamiliar with Chekhov’s play or indeed, theatre itself. But once each character is consolidated, you as a viewer are simply swept along for the ride.


In essence, this is the Andrew Scott performance, not one to study the inner workings and themes of Anton Chekhov.

Under Yates’ artful direction, Scott finds the highs and lows of each character, taking them across each arc in Chekhov’s words. The sheer magnitude of having to keep track of each emotional beat, change and motive is applause worthy from the very start and something to be studied by every young person who wants to be an actor.


The set design, by Vize, is kept simple so as to not overload the production and instead give Scott ample room to play. A curtain draws over a mirror reflecting the audience (read into that symbolism what you will) turning day into night, while a doorway sits at the back, a literal doorway for the staging, but also for Scott to shapeshift when needed.


In lesser hands, Vanya could have been seen as too much of a gimmick for the West End stage - an intimate scene between Michael and Helena is absurdly seductive and charged - and it purely comes down to the finesse of the creative team that Vanya pays itself off in dividends.


In essence, this is the Andrew Scott performance, not one to study the inner workings and themes of Anton Chekhov. But when you have a performance that is this captivating, you are left not feeling robbed of your time. Australian audiences have the chance to experience this tour de force themselves in select cinemas and it truly is something magical to behold.




 

PERFORMER & CO-CREATOR ANDREW SCOTT

ADAPTER & CO-CREATOR SIMON STEPHENS

DIRECTOR AND CO-CREATOR SAM YATES

DESIGNER & CO-CREATOR ROSANNA VIZE

LIGHTING DESIGNER JAMES FARNCOMBE

SOUND DESIGNER DAN BALFOUR

VIDEO DESIGNER JACK PHELAN

MOVEMENT DIRECTOR MICHELA MEAZZA

MUSIC KELLY MORAN

COSTUME DESIGNER NATALIE PRYCE

ASSOCIATE DESIGNER BLYTHE BRETT

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FRANCESCA HSIEH

PROPS SUPERVISOR KATE MARGRETTS

PRODUCTION MANAGER JULI FRAIRE

UNDERSTUDY VICTORIA BLUNT

COMPANY STAGE MANAGER MARTIN HOPE

DEPUTY STAGE MANAGER IMOGEN FIRTH

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER TIMESHA MATHURIN

SOUND NO. 1 ERIK JACKSON

SOUND NO. 2 ALICE BROOKS

LIGHTING OPERATOR JEANNIE FONG

WARDROBE MANAGER JORDAN COLLS

TECHNICAL SWING KJ BARHAM

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