revew: Walter Meierjohann – Uncle Vanya
by Anton Chekov/
vers by Andrew Upton/
dir Walter Meierjohann/
i swear the most precious and beautiful and Must Be Repeated part of Uncle Vanya at HOME is Leaf Boy. he plays the accordion at random intervals for no reason, at the start of the second half he comes onstage and JUST STARTS TIPPING LEAVES EVERYWHERE I LOVED IT BEST PART OF THE SHOW STRAIGHT UP – I don’t know who anyone is or why the play is even named after this Vanya bloke but LEAF BOY?! UGH HE’S PERFECT. He has like three words in the whole sodding play its like he’s just a particularly obnoxious member of the stage crew he’s just hanging around on the stage not saying or doing anything, occasionally he’s sent to fetch someone and All The Time he lookes pissed off and bored he is the best Every Play Needs A Leaf Boy
who is he?!
mate whats actually sposed to be happening in Uncle Vanya? i swear
Uncle Vanya‘s funny. I swear I don’t know what the plot was sposed to be. I go in being all ‘oh this is Chekov he’s supposed to be good I saw The Cherry Orchard ages ago and that was alright, kind of miserable. So what, Chekov’s miserable and Russian and dead but he’s pretty held up right? He’s like a Russian Ibsen, people like him, Michael Billington’s probably seen at least a hundred of em let’s go.
So what I understand is that Uncle Vanya lives in a big old house with his Niece and two older women and an older man and I don’t really know what the last three are there to do but Vanya and Niece look after the estate and the books and things. But the house is all crumbling and also Niece’s Dad is here with his Wife, who Vanya is in love with (because she walks across the stage in a particularly attractive way (was that bit supposed to be funny?))
so what does Vanya harbour in his heart a secret desire to move to Africa?
I’ve No Idea which bits in Vanya are supposed to be funny. I found loads of bits funny because they were naff and made no sense. There was a rumbling sensible chuckle when the script made a joke about Gogol’s The Government Inspector. This was, of course, An Approved Joke, but when I laughed at Vanya wistfully talking about a better life then turning to a map of Africa, a woman sat behind me whispered ‘disrespectful’. Fukin hell. And of course, if I’d turned around to stare at her and her mates so as I could effectively take my cue as to when was an Appropriate Moment Of Sophisticated Comedy, I’D have been the rude one. Bloody theatre.
Maybe it’s an illusion but I’ve noticed a Marked difference between the audiences at the Royal Exchange and at HOME. (they’re both pretty white n old n posh, but) When I saw King Lear at the Exchange last year, the audience were laughing all over the place, it was great. Lear wanders on talking nonsense because he’s gone mad because everyone and everything he loved and owned has been taken away from him and there’s just giggles everywhere. It was beautiful. Everyone laughing at the poor mad man and Don Warrington possibly getting a bit pissed off that the house isn’t full of weeping.
But HOME audiences are stuffy, is my point.
Obviously that’s this specific audience n this specific play n that night and all that but but
but I just want to be allowed to laugh if I fucking feel like laughing when I’m watching a play and its funny.
how old even is this girl/woman whos hiys niece anyway? Like 17? 38? 11?
So Niece is referred to as something like ‘being almost a woman’ or ‘on the cusp of womanhood’ or one of those other creepy phrases. But she’s also running some kind of stately home? And she makes reference to years and years ago helping translate papers for her Dad’s work. So was she like 7 doing that? And I swear Doctor says something like ‘5 years ago I might have considered her’. So is she actually young or is everyone just mad infantilising her?
The gender politics in Uncle Vanya are shit. Not that I’m surprised the women in a play that’s idunno maybe 100 years old(?) are a bit flat but GOD the men are fukin creeps. Like almost to a man the men are creeps. The only one that avoids being a creep is the man whose function I don’t know that I think they called Waffles(?) But he’s not a character as much as just a random bit of light humour. Every action he performs is a bumble. He bumbles here, he bumbles there. He’s the only non-white actor in the cast. I don’t know what his function was.
The Doctor’s function seems to be to be a big virile lech. Uncle Vanya’s function seems to be to be a big impotent lech. They both really really want to have sex with Wife. Who makes it clear she doesn’t want to have sex with them, she has a husband, thank you very much. But surely she can’t really love her husband? They say. He’s old and a bit thick. You want to have sex with me. They both say. Vanya fetches her flowers, Doctor grabs her and traps her against walls.
And then in a quivering OH-I-was-just-playing-coy-and-sexy-and-hard-to-get way, she gives in to her inner passions, which were never a part of her character before but I guess cos she’s wearing a playsuit we can assume she’s just a temptress and a sexpot idunno so that doesn’t need to be a part of her character cos she’s a woman onstage duh (dont laugh at this bit this is the way the world works silly boy). So she snogs him a bit and gives him a hug.
I guess I can’t blame her for wanting to have a bit of the Absolutely Awful Doctor Who Everyone Onstage Is Attracted To (definitely including Vanya) Despite The Fact He’s A Right Knobhead. Because in an earlier scene her husband (Dad) is upset and she tries to nosh him off to cheer him up, and THAT doesn’t even go right. So she gets upset because if she can’t nosh off her husband to cheer him up what can she do? (i swear she said some words to this effect).
and i KNOW i could just look on Wikipedia but surely if I’ve seen the show i ought to have learnt these things??
WHO is this dude who keeps bumbling on for no reason? WHO IS HE?
Something else I understand from Vanya is that the men (Vanya & Doctor) are SO PURE AND VIRTUOUS but they’ve been corrupted by Dad and HIS AWFUL WIFE and their miserable surroundings. Doctor has an indulgent speech about how he and Vanya are Very Good Men who have been ruined and made coarse by other people. I think I laughed at this bit cos I thought throughout they were both knobs. Also I was very confused cos I didn’t even think they were mates? Like they’re these weird love-rivals, Doctor is a cocky wolfish dude and Vanya is a very wet blanket who thinks he’s better than everyone and then suddenly they’ve got some sort of intimate history?
So there’s obviously this big sort of metaphor at work that probably relates to the Russia Chekov was writing in and if you wanted you could make a boring ‘crumbling house of Britain’ Brexit comparison (y’know if you’re the sort of ‘critic’ who wants their ‘reviews’ to be read and make sense lol). There’s a kind of power-tension between Dad who sort of runs the house and Niece who technically owns the house and Vanya who just really cares about it all ok? And I guess I can infer that there were some big scary shifts in economic power at the time. But yknow that’s always a fear of people who have big houses and money (omg is that what people mean when they talk about ‘universal themes’? Houses and Money. Oh it all makes sense now(?)).
I don’t know if the original Russian is this clunky but there are so many lines that are like ‘I’m SAD now BECAUSE THIS HAPPENED’ or ‘YOU are making ME ANGRY’. And oh. Ok, maybe I should just listen to what the characters literally say instead of trying to decipher what their interactions mean. Actually maybe that would be a good technique because the script has a tendency to have the occasional exposition dump in case you’re not sure what’s going on. There’s a big scene around a table where Dad just explains the economic situation and what he wants to do with the house and then Vanya explains that Niece actually owns the house and I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to already know any of this.
I’m going to go and read a synopsis after posting this but if anyone wants to tell me what was actually going on then I’d be v grateful.
so ive only seen two Chekovs now but is his thing ‘people leave a house at the end of a play’? like The Cherry Orchard ended with people leaving a house and so does this Is That A Thing?
VERDICT: sexist and confusing but very very funny if you dont mind people getting annoyed at u laughing
PS: Leaf Boy 5ever 2k17 idft