Photo: Marc Brenner

Andrew Scott is one of our favourite actors – he may be best-known for his TV work (Fleabag, Sherlock) but we adore seeing him on-stage. We caught him a few years ago on the West End in Hamlet and this week we had the pleasure of seeing him again in Vanya, a radical one-person adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece Uncle Vanya. It’s a bold re-telling, now set on a farm in Ireland, in a more modern (although perhaps not quite present day) setting, and all the characters’ names have been Anglicised, with our protagonist Vanya becoming Ivan. For all the changes, however, it’s still Chekhov’s tragically comic play at its heart.

For those unfamiliar, Vanya features eight characters – nine if we include Vanya’s deceased sister, who of course has no lines, but her presence is acutely felt throughout the play – so choosing to stage this as a one-person show is a bold decision. Its focus is on a dysfunctional family, all of whom we meet, alongside their doctor and their housekeeper. It’s high-concept theatre and some knowledge of the play would be beneficial – the family dynamic is not immediately obvious from the outset, and the conversations may be tricky to follow if you’re not already aware of how everyone knows each other.

That’s not to say it doesn’t work – for the most part it’s navigable. Some sketches are genuinely great being performed by one actor: there’s a pivotal scene involving a gun being fired and this actually lands extremely well when it’s not immediately obvious what’s happened. In other instances we see one person pose a thought and then Andrew slowly move into position to adopt a different character for the response – the payoff is even more satisfying having waited for it. The set up also lends itself to amusing observations about where certain characters appeared from or how long they had been in the room.

What really makes this production is Andrew Scott – he is utterly captivating from start to finish. From the playful show opening to the delicate and tender final scenes, this is an authentic, intimate and engaging performance. The way he can embody an entirely different character by holding a tea towel in a certain manner, or by playing with a necklace, is incredible to see – this is truly a masterclass in acting. He holds the audience in the palm of his hands throughout – for almost the entire show you would be able to hear a pin drop in the auditorium.

We thoroughly enjoyed our evening with Vanya, although we’d caution that this is not the most accessible piece of theatre. While Chekhov is a well-known playwright and this is one of his most famous plays, it’s not a universally-known story, and if you’re not familiar with it we’d suggest having a quick read of a synopsis before going to the theatre. Vanya is well worth checking out, though – this is one of the finest acting performances you’re likely to see.

GAY TIMES gives Vanya – 4/5

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