Vanya review: Andrew Scott masters the stage in bizarrely brilliant one-man adaptation

Vanya review: Andrew Scott stuns in one-man adaptation.

Andrew Scott delivers an acting tour-de-force in Vanya, a one-man adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s timeless classic Uncle Vanya at London’s Duke of York Theatre.

Out Irish actor Scott has proved his chameleon-like ability to embody bold and brilliant characters throughout his career on stage and on screen. Theatre-goers will remember his ambitious run in the one-man adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, hailed by critics as “heart-breaking and extraordinarily beautiful”.

And his latest stint, in the bizarrely brilliant one-man show Vanya, proves his masterful command of live storytelling.

Scott captures the audience’s attention after just a few moments on stage as he mindlessly makes a cup of tea, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. Thus begins a two-hour odyssey through Chekov’s play exploring unrequited love, sexual frisson, deeply held grief and the frayed edges of human nature.

Andrew Scott in Vanya.
Andrew Scott is a tour-de-force in his one-man production of Vanya. (Marc Brenner)

In another’s hands, the concept could be too tricky to properly execute, perhaps even a sacrilege on a universally loved text that dips in and out of the complex and tortured lives of eight people brought together by blood, friendship or simply chance.

But Scott does not waver in the face of the task, effortlessly slipping into different guises. Through the wringing of his hands, the changing temperament of his Irish lilt, or even the minuscule tilt of his head, he populates an empty stage with an array of vibrant characters bearing bitter baggage.

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We meet Alexander, a washed-out filmmaker who uproots the family home of his late wife Anna when he arrives at the house of former mother-in-law Elizabeth with new wife Helena in tow.

At this stale country estate where dreams come to die we meet the despairing (and titular) Uncle Vanya, still consumed by the loss of his sister and hopelessly obsessed with Helena, and the shy, reticent Sonia, whose grey life is only enriched by her unreciprocated crush on the visiting doctor, Michael.

The play delivers a heart-wrenching thesis on love in all its forms; that of a grieving brother, a spurned spinster and forbidden lovers in the form of Michael and Helena.

The delicate tensions and ever-shifting dynamics – so carefully carved by Scott – culminate in a devastating final manifesto on the quiet joy of humanity that leaves you breathless.

There are moments where you wonder if the show’s solo nature might diminish the inter-personal tragedy of the original text, first published in 1898; that perhaps some of the years-long yearning, electric chemistry and strained human relations may get lost along the way.

However, Scott masterfully navigates these potential pitfalls, dancing between perfectly executed moments of comic relief, astonishing sex scenes and rage-filled confrontations.

Scott clearly has a taste for taking on subversive roles, and Vanya contains some of his boldest to date. It’s a must-see for theatre fans in search of a show that offers a dazzling take on an age-old work.

Vanya runs at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 21 October. Tickets are available here.