Tuesday, April 23

Vanya – National Theatre Live – Altrincham Garrick Playhouse

The latest offering from National Theatre Live screened this evening at Altrincham Garrick Playhouse, and whilst ‘Vanya’ featured an acting performance from Andrew Scott that garnered deserved plaudits during its West End run last year, I found the overall production something to be admired rather than loved.

Scott, director Sam Yates and designer Rosanna Vize share equal billing as co-creators alongside writer Simon Stephens, who relocates Chekhov’s tragicomedy to a 20th-century Irish farm, preserving the plaintive sadness of the 1897 original story whilst seeking to shed new light onto the characters through Scott’s inventive interpretation.

He plays everyone, differentiating men and women, young and old, with subtle changes of vocal register and body language. His performance is wry, often archly funny, briefly very sexy and sometimes wrenchingly sad.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Sauntering onto a brightly lit set dotted with tables, chairs, a piano and a kitchen sink, he smirks at us while turning the house lights off, on, then off again. From the outset, we are invited inside the joke, later he will regularly break the fourth wall, rolling his eyes at contrived plot points and emphasising double entendres where none existed in the original script.  He fully inhabits the characters, and the close intensity of the NT cameras capture his nuanced and subtle changes -often mid-sentence – beautifully.

Stephens makes little concession to anyone not familiar with the original play, the tumult of differing characterisations are initially confusing but gradually settle into a recognisable pattern and the audience acclimatises itself to the curious one man, multi character structure. Downtrodden Vanya (here renamed Ivan) and his niece Sonya work on the family potato farm to support her pompous film-maker father, Alexander: Sonya’s mother was Vanya’s late, beloved sister, and the farm was her dowry. Now Sonya loves charismatic, self-destructive Doctor Michael “more than my own father and mother”: she bites her dishtowel in shame as she says this. The doctor and Ivan both covet Alexander’s glamorous, languorous second wife, Helena. Only one of them is briefly requited, in a scene that sees Scott claw his own short-sleeved linen shirt off to surprisingly erotic effect.  He evokes the female characters with great subtlety – Helena just by the way he toys with a chain around his neck. The whispered, passionate moments hold the audience rapt, and the conversation realised as if between two differing entities.

However, some of the effects that no doubt worked well in a theatrical setting are less successfully transposed to the medium of live capture. Vanya is initially identified by his sunglasses and a handheld device that makes cartoon sound effects and Sonya by her dishtowel, both feeling overly contrived, more silly than clever. Additionally, watching with a cinematic audience that are remote from the actual theatre removed the element of complicity between actor and audience that was integral to the success of the show in a live environment.

Overall, a clever concept that is given kudos by an acting ‘tour de force’ from Scott, demonstrating real intelligence without ever tugging at my heartstrings. https://www.ntlive.com/

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 3rd March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.