A brilliant Andrew Scott plays all the roles in this NT Live production VANYA


Andrew Scott (most widely known perhaps as Sherlock’s Moriarty or Fleabag’s Hot Priest), in this production presented by the National Theatre, the latest in the Sharmill Films NT Live series, gives a magnificent bravura performance in a one man version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.

Chekhov’s play is revamped to a bleak, lonely 20th century Irish farm, keeping the story and anguish yet presenting the characters in a new way, in modern language with anglicised names. It is a place of depressed,enforced endurance and ennui rather than a full life.

The play begins as Scott saunters onto a lustrously lit set with tables, chairs, a piano, plywood boxes and a kitchen sink strewn around the stage, and with a smug look on his face, turns the house lights off, on, then off again. We, the audience, are reflected back at ourselves, as the back curtain is drawn to reveal a mirror. Once he starts smoking a cigarette he is morphed into the  housekeeper Maureen, flirting with visiting doctor Michael.

All the issues in Chekhov’s play appear, even if briefly, from climate change to midlife crisis. Central to this production though is the complicated love entanglement concerning Helena, the beautiful narcissistic young wife of  arrogant, domineering elderly filmmaker Alexander (who hates living in the countryside), his daughter Sonia, dispirited doctor Michael and the eponymous Vanya (here called Ivan). 

Ivan and his niece Sonya slave on the family potato farm to maintain her supercilious film-maker father, Alexander: Sonya’s mother was Vanya’s late, beloved sister, and the farm was her dowry. Now Sonya loves seductive, imploding Doctor Michael.

Scott plays all of the characters, delineating men and women, young and old, with slight changes of voice and symbolic tics of body language. He ranges from, at times, ironically comic to passionate intensity, and the ending is extremely emotional and deeply moving. Helena is portrayed as a wealthy posh woman who fidgets with her necklace while Vanya (Ivan) is presented as a profligate who slinks around in sunglasses.

Scott, Stephens, director Sam Yates and designer Rosanna Vize are all credited  as co-creators. Lighting is by James Farncombe, sound design by Dan Balfour and the video projections by Jack Phelan. But it is Scott’s performance that mesmerises.

Running time just under two hours 

NT LIVE VANYA screens at selected cinemas as of Thursday 8th March 2024