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BWW Review: UNCLE VANYA, Harold Pinter Theatre, Cinema Broadcast

After COVID-19 cut their West End run short, the cast and crew recorded this special cinematic release

BWW Review: UNCLE VANYA, Harold Pinter Theatre, Cinema Broadcast

BWW Review: UNCLE VANYA, Harold Pinter Theatre, Cinema Broadcast

Uncle Vanya was one of many West End shows that saw their run abruptly cut short when COVID-19 hit. But, with their set still up at the Harold Pinter Theatre, back in August the show was performed once again, this time to cameras instead of an audience, allowing Uncle Vanya to have a nationwide cinema release.

The plot centres around Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood) and her Uncle Vanya (Toby Jones), who together with their Nana (Anna Calder-Marshall) work hard on an isolated estate. But when Sonya's father, Professor Serebryakov (Roger Allam), suddenly returns with his new wife Yelena (Rosalind Eleazar), and the local doctor Astrov (Richard Armitage) suddenly starts making more frequent visits, the family are forced to confront hard truths and unrequited loves, and try find hope amongst the despair.

Conor McPherson has created a contemporary adaptation of Chekhov's classic work. This gives a story a new lease of life, with faster pacing, more attention to the humour, and with characters that are easier to relate to, but without losing the authenticity of the original text. There are plenty of resonant themes, too, including climate change, gender inequality, and a virus that is making the doctor's workload overwhelming. It's very much an Uncle Vanya for 2020.

The opening and closing minutes of the broadcast centre on the current situation: theatres shut down across the West End and empty auditoriums longing for an audience. It's incredibly moving, particularly at the end when you witness the cast and crew interacting with each other after six months apart, and sending a powerful message about the importance of theatre and the arts.

It comes as no surprise that Jones received a Best Actor nomination in the Olivier Awards this year for his portrayal of Vanya. This is a complex character to play, with both high levels of dark humour and utter despair, but Jones delivers the light-hearted moments with sublime comic timing and the low points with the perfect level of intensity. He creates a vulnerable and tortured soul, as well as a moody uncle with quick wit - gripping to watch throughout.

Armitage and Eleazar have electric chemistry together, with subtle mounting tension between them and scenes that are both romantic and raw. More than just a passionate couple, the pair bring out the complexities of their characters in their exchanges with smart and nuanced deliveries, so you end up feeling just as heartbroken for Vanya and his unreturned love for Yelena as for Yelena and Astrov's impossible relationship.

Wood plays the lovesick Sonya and brings a naivety to this character that makes her instantly loveable. Unrequited feelings can often be an overplayed plot line, but Wood portrays Sonya as so much more than her heartbreak, and her scenes with Eleazar as daughter and stepmother are real standouts, as the two bond for the first time over mutual frustrations and love.

While it's devastating that this highly praised production was forced to close early, the cinematic element that's brought into this recording really elevates the show's beauty and highlights how well deserved their four Olivier Award nominations were. You see the sheer level of detail that's gone into the set by Rae Smith to make it look like a believable family home, or the subtle glances between characters - which could have been missed on the stage - that bring further emotion to the narrative and the top-tier talent.

You never lose the intimacy of passionate moments either, which can often be the case with cinema releases of West End shows. In fact, the scenes between Jones and Armitage, as well as Wood and Eleazar, are made more intense and breathtaking as a result of the spectacular cinematography and direction by Ian Rickson. A particularly nice touch is having the monologues delivered straight down the lens, creating a further feeling of closeness.

This fresh adaptation of Uncle Vanya is more than the West End show on the big screen. It's the perfect mix of stage and film, combining to create a sensational viewing experience.

Uncle Vanya is out now in cinemas. Find your local screening at

Photo: Johan Persson

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