I could hear very little English being spoken from where I was sitting in the beautiful Theatre Royal in the Haymarket. Oh well I thought, I’d better get used to it, I shall be listening to Russian for the next three hours. The stage is largely empty, just three haystacks and a rocking chair, but when the cast arrive on stage they bring the rest of the set with them. The lighting and muted colour scheme are simple yet quite beautiful.
The Maly Drama Theatre is one of only three theatres to have attained the status of Theatre of Europe. As well as performing in their home city of St. Petersburg they regularly perform in theatre festivals worldwide and are therefore well-practised at performing in front of audiences for whom Russian is not their first language. There is a lot of non-verbal visual drama and comedy. The whole cast are absolutely excellent, but if I had to pick out any performances it would be Kseniya Rappoport as Elena, Ekaterina Tarasova as Sonia, Sergei Kuryshev as Uncle Vanya and Igor Chernevich as Doctor Astrov. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Sonia and Elena who had a marvellous onstage chemistry and were extremely engaging and funny.
For the benefit of non-Russian speaking audience members, the text is shown on surtitles above and to the side of the stage. I was quite worried about this as I have only experienced this with opera before and wasn’t sure I would be able to follow the drama and read the words at the same time. I needn’t have worried, The Barbican have done a wonderful job in preparing the English translations for the surtitles. I think I appreciated the story more by being able to read it, Doctor Astrov’s speech about his trees and his work to preserve them was particularly moving. The surtitles were succinct and easy to follow, they were short enough for you to read them and still be able to keep an eye on everything that was going on stage. However, the raucous laughter following some of the more risqué speeches made me think that maybe the jokes were funnier in Russian! Watching a play in a language you don’t understand may sound a daunting prospect, but most people wouldn’t hesitate to go to an opera performed in another language and this really wasn’t so different.
Review by Sally Knipe
Vanya (Sergey Kuryshev), together with his niece Sonya (Ekaterina Tarasova), has sacrificed his life managing the estate of Professor Serebryakov (celebrated Russian film actor, Igor Ivanov), his former brother-in-law and Sonya’s father. But when the Professor returns from the city with his glamorous young wife Yelena (multi-award-winning stage and screen actress Ksenia Rappoport) tensions spiral as their world is thrown upside down.
Chekhov’s tragicomic masterpiece of dashed dreams, thwarted and eternal love returns to London in Lev Dodin’s definitive interpretation of this classic play.
7.00pm May 15th (Press Night), 16th and 17th
Theatre Royal Haymarket, Haymarket, London, SW1Y 4HT