Vanya on 42nd Street

Vanya on 42nd Street ★★★★

After Uncle Vanya’s supporting role in the excellent Drive My Car I was keen to revisit Louis Malle’s filmed version of Chekhov’s play. A dilapidated theatre is the fitting setting for the fin de siècle despondencies, although the New York location and American accents take some adjustment. 

It’s a great play. The characters complain about their lack of satisfaction, with their dreams and opportunities unfulfilled, as they succumb to the haze of alcohol, and the slow suffocation of age. It is the autumn of their discontent.

The production’s a strange one - made intimate through Malle’s lens, yet still theatrical. It consciously exposes the artifice at the same time as it draws us under its spell. I found the acting a mixed bag. Some of it doesn’t make a smooth transition from the stage, while others pass subtly into the screen, which is to say that sometimes it jars and sometimes it sings. However, what soars consistently throughout is Chekhov’s marvellous dialogue. 

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