‘Uncle Vanya’: review by Michael Billington (The Guardian)

This dazzling production by Rimas Tuminas is in a wholly different tradition: that of the Russian director Meyerhold, who evolved a system of acting based on sports, acrobatics and clownish grotesquerie.
Tuminas preserves every word of Chekhov’s text. But nothing looks or sounds as we expect. The stage is free of clutter, although we glimpse a distant prospect of a stone lion symbolising Petersburg. Characters are also vividly redefined: the Professor and his young wife, Elena, whose rural visit causes so much havoc, are normally seen as tragically mismatched; here they clearly still enjoy an actively rumbustious sex-life and, when Vanya tries to shoot the old Prof, Elena is the first to interpose her body. And for all his ecological fervour, the visiting doctor, Astrov, is also a drunken buffoon who, in his cups, engages in a disastrous bit of DIY carpentry with the Chaplinesque Waffles. Meanwhile, Vanya’s niece, Sonya, is no dowdy frump but a young girl whose passion for the doctor verges on hysteria.

But the joy of the production lies in its total-theatre mix of words, music, mime and symbolism. Anna Dubrovskaya’s Elena, stunning in white silk, bowls a circus hoop. Astrov shows her his images of deforestation on a projector with an unmistakably phallic funnel that emits puffs of steam. And there is an extraordinary moment at the end when Sonya ministers to Vanya, beautifully played by Sergey Makovetsky, as if he were a run-down machine that she had to lovingly reassemble. Anyone who saw the Vakhtangov when they brought Measure for Measure to Shakespeare’s Globe this summer will know they are a first-rate troupe. Although this isn’t the only way to play Vanya, their Chekhov has an unforgettable expressionist audacity.

‘Uncle Vanya’: review by Michael Coveney (The WhatsOnStage.com)

Passion without sentimentality is the hallmark of this truly wonderful production from the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow, and while the Lindsay Posner version at the Vaudeville may look more like Chekhov, this one feels infinitely more authentic.
As Michael Pennington points out in a programme note, this is not the Chekhov of Stanislavski’s meticulous realism, but of the Expressionist divergence taken up by Meyerhold and the man who founded this theatre in 1921, Evgeniy Vakhtangov.
It’s a theatre we know from the brilliant productions of Yuri Lyubimov’s Taganka and Robert Sturua’s Rustaveli, a theatre of tableaux, black cartoonish humour, mannequins and movement, strident soundtracks and dark nights of the soul.
Thus Rimas Tuminas‘ savagely decisive staging gives us the professor entering in procession of devoted reverie; Elena exotically toying with a hoop; and, at the end of the second act, when the answer is “No” to music after midnight, Elena and Sonya sitting like ghosts at a decrepit old purgatorial piano, dust billowing all over the stage.
Played in a black void – illuminated with half a dozen screens with English sur-titles – Adomas Yatsovskis’ design supplies a single lantern as a constant full moon, a well-worn desk and workbench for Vanya’s accounts, a leather sofa, a supply of chairs when needed. No sign of samovar, aprons, guitar, or farmyard animals.
All the characters resemble remnants of themselves: an old nurse in a mad Katherine Hepburn rig-out and wig; an unusually forceful, Chaplinesque Waffles, a wonderfully eccentric old mother in cropped hair and blue spectacles, and a towering, self-regarding professor.
Vanya’s first shot misses, and the professor is lined up as if for a military execution, confident in his survival. He’s indomitable. The accommodations and farewells are done as a fluid, muscular ballet, with Astrov injecting Vanya before demanding back his morphine, and Sonya rising onto the workbench in her speech of consolation re-emphasised as one of stirring conviction and defiance.
You experience the play as never before, and it’s so refreshing and exhilarating. The central performance is that of Anna Dubrovskaya as Elena, utterly drained in her futile marriage, yet utterly bewitching, a figure of incomparable feline grace and beauty.
Sergey Makovetsky’s Vanya is a shadow puppet of delicate movement and speech, a timid, slightly half-witted creature who does the opposite of most British Vanyas in not feeling sorry for himself, or carrying on like Oliver Reed in something by D H Lawrence.
And Vladimir Vdovichenkov makes of Astrov a real rascal in a vast trench coat, bearing the rough weather and poor condition of the peasants in his very demeanour, and showing Elena his maps not in a scroll but a primitive camera with a smoking phallic knob on the top of it. She gets the message.
But the performance of the night, primus inter pares in this outstanding ensemble, is Maria Berdinskikh’s as Sonya, a steely and unsparing portrait of devotion, consideration and, yes, optimism; in the sense of looking on the bright side when there is none. And in the context of the show’s plangent, circus-like, morbid festivity, she shines like a beacon of intensity and goodness, the spirit of a nation.

‘Life as unexpected joy’, Pavel Rudnev (Chastny Correspondent)

‘Uncle Vanya’ just staged at the Vakhtangov theatre is nearly ideal; there is a feeling that this show will remain the first and the main event of the theatre season — so good it is. It is impossible to go against the big and creative victory. With such a level of artistic leadership, the Vakhtangov theatre, after many years of slack, is becoming one of the most important spots on Moscow treater map.
‘Uncle Vanya’ is a performance which is free of artistic compromises, in contrary, it is a result of the toilsome theatre labour. All best features came together. Each component has its full value and provides for the harmony of the show.
Tuminas stages a hard performance with concepts, strange perversions, illogical behaviour of heroes, and absurd allegories, in accordance with the spirit of the Lithuanian theatre directorship. But at the same time, ‘Uncle Vanya’ is the actor’s theatre driven by the actor’s idea and dependent on the actor’s temperament.
There is a feeling of both the directorship dictate and the ensemble of actors presenting marvelous master pieces, possible the most rare feature of the modern theatre.

‘He is not Nekrosius, he is a different one’, Marina Davydova (Izvestiya)

Among the two directors from Lithuania, Rimas Tuminas is not the most metaphorical. His means include irony, grotesque, eccentricity. Irony conjugated with compassion is the touchstone of his style. The irony which does not cancel but highlights the compassion to Chekhov’s heroes, is the milestone of the unique style of Rimas Tuminas. In ‘Uncle Vanya’, the Vakhtangov theatre actors are submerged into the atmosphere of the scenic burlesque, he sprinkled the magic water of life onto their sharp and passionate play-acting talents that we just about to begin fading. The stunning grotesque of Tuminas performances is in fact much warmer than the cold academism, which is mistakenly called some times as the respect to old traditions.

‘Tragedy of sunlight’, Olga Egoshina (Novye izvestiya)

The Vakhtangov theatre established a new high level of Chekhov’s interpretation which is beyond the reach for other theatres. Rimas Tuminas inspected the characters of ‘Uncle Vanya’ in a bright sunlight. His judgement was precise and strict. The actors perform their parts in a sharp and grotesque style. It’s a modern tragedy with satiric and burlesque elements. Public enjoy the show and often laughs but the irony is that it might be the most pessimistic interpretation.

‘Let’s drink nunny!’, Mariya Sedykh (Itogi)

The Vakhtangov actors break dull aging traditions of presenting Checkhov’s personages in the glaring and saucy way. If in the play, Serebryakov is a self-affected egoist, in the representation of Vladimir Simonov we see a vivified monument, that sets inflexible fees as the Statue of the Commander. If Elena Andreevna is described as a lady with the mermaid blood, Anna Dubrovskaya plays a character who only for a moment — in the final scenes — appears a real woman. Uncle Vanya says, “When there is no real life, people live as mirages”. Odd mirages come from the darkness of the old house, some of them in Chaplin’s bowler (as Waffles plaid by Yury Kraskov), others — in cowboy hats (as Doctor Astrov played by Vladimit Vdovichenkov). All this macabre grotesque exists to emphasise two small and awkward human beings — Sonya and Ivan Petrovich. Maria Berdinskikh and Sergey Makovetsky do not tell the story of the lost life. Their heroes, looking like Lilliputians in the Land of Giants, have no idea that it is only them who really suffer and live with dignity. On this dignity the tragedy of the performance is based.

‘Bloodsuckers of the destiny’, Olga Galakhova (RIA Novosti)

Checkov’s plays are nagged to death, and it is too difficult to imagine any new representation of the classical texts to become a real surprise. Vere few can amaze the theatre world by the innovative view on the plays of the genius dramatist. Today we see the case: the magnificent production of Rimas Tuminas proves that the Vakhtangov theatre attained the real master.

‘The characters of ‘Uncle Vanya’ became much younger’, Olga Romantcova (Gazeta)

Rimas Tuminas always makes his own unique interpretation of any play he stages. His fantasy has no boundaries in. His direction is bright and fascinating. Tuminas doesn’t regard ‘Uncle Vanya’ as an elegy or litany, his performance is rhythmic, sharp and rushing. The whole production can be seen as an ironic director’s comment to the classical interpretation of Chekhov’s plays. The main theme of the performance is the cultural decay.

‘The monument of a lion’, Aliona Karas (Rossiyskaya gazeta)

The bitter-sweet and dark grotesque music by Faustas Latenas guides all the play by Anton Chekov staged by Rimas Tuminas. The melody either forms a tender background, or distracts the public becoming the main character in a specific mechanic opera theatre. During the past century the writings by Anton Chekov and the way of their interpretation seem to become something solid, frozen and mechanic. Rimas Tuminas shows us a beautiful irony about it. He even includes the most theatrical and classical elements, for example the actors address directly to the audience from time to time.