Michael Frayn’s translation sparkles and captures Chekhov’s comic touch brilliantly but as is often the case, the comedy captures some important truths about human emotions.
At the heart of the production is Roger Allam’s Vanya, less the “holy innocent” but a man full of resentment and bitterness.
What Allam brings out so well is the emotional immaturity of the man. This is a man who has been suffocated through duty and through boredom and Allam gives us the full range of his arrested state : he gazes at Yelena with puppy-dog admiration like a member of the lower sixth in the throes of his first love and like any teenager, he has a fantastic range of sighs and petty flounces.
But while it’s easy to think of his as a buffoon, there are moments of real pathos too – catching sight of Astrov and Yelena kissing, he pulls a bunch of red roses so the petals fall through his hands like a trickle of blood. – it’s an arresting moment, that captures the full extent of Vanya’s despair.
Allam’s emotional Vanya is nicely complemented by Timothy West’s Serebryakov, less the demanding busybody and more a frail old man. He is well supported by Lara Pulver, as his spirited young wife, Yelena, relishing her effect on the men of the household.
Dervla Kirwan’s Sonya is less the meek and mild mouse of many portrayals. There’s a bit more fire in her than is usually the case.
Her closing speech, outlining the life of duty for her and Vanya, is less a call for patience and a sense of duty but she almost burns with religious fervour like a revivalist preacher – a reminder that there’s some fire burning in her heart.
This is an excellent production, commemorating Olivier’s opening interpretation for the very first Chichester festival, 50 years ago – it’s certainly set a high standard for the rest of the season.
- Maxwell Cooter