Laurence Olivier's production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya performed by the Chichester Festival Theatre.
Chekhov's fascination with the inability to act makes him a spiritual ancestor of Samuel Beckett. I find the acting very satisfying, and what an all-star cast! Michael Redgrave is greatly moving in the title role, caught in the trap of upper-class ennui. And the women, particularly Rosemary Harris as Yelena are marvelous, each stuck in inescapable comfort. The modest scenery increases the oppressive claustrophobia of the atmosphere.
Olivier's production of Chekhov's masterpiece is rightly famous. In addition to following Constance Garnet's beautiful translation of the play faithfully and staging the play carefully (albeit in a traditional fashion), Olivier, who plays Astrov (the Doctor, who, as in all Chekhov's plays, represents the playwright himself) assembled a stellar cast of actors: Joan Plowright is a perfect Sonia and Rosemary Harris a subtle Yelena. The older characters are filled out by some giants of the 20th century English stage, including Max Adrian, Lewis Casson, and Casson's wife, the magnificent Dame Sybil Thorndike as the Nurse. Topping the list, of course, is a fine performance by Michael Redgrave in the title role. Olivier and his actors are able to evoke the classic Chekhovian mood from the opening and carry it through smoothly and warmly until the end. The result gives the viewer a gentle and bittersweet view into "country life" (see Chekhov's subtitle) and how people waste the gift of life with petty complaints rather than taking charge of it. This production is a perfect introduction to Chekhov and should be seen by all who love theatre.
Director: Stuart Burge
Writers: Anton Chekhov (play), Constance Garnett (translation)
Cast: Max Adrian .... Professor Serebryskov /
Lewis Casson .... Telyegin /
Fay Compton .... Mother /
Rosemary Harris .... Ilyena /
Robert Lang .... Yefim /
Laurence Olivier .... Dr. Astrov /
Joan Plowright .... Sonya /
Michael Redgrave .... Uncle Vanya /
Sybil Thorndike .... The Nurse.
Runtime: 120 min
Color: Black and White
The 1962 filming and sound production values leave a bit to be desired but it's still worth seeing this version of Chekov's masterpiece.