Lockdown Chekhov


Photo: Jan Woolf. Amiee Lou Wood as Sonya and Toby Jones as Vanya on my MacBook Air. 

I watched the recent production of Uncle Vanya on my computer just before the announcement of Tier 5, that is starting to feel like a 5th act in a play.   Or is Vanya a 5 tier play?  There were lots of tears in it, dealing as it does, with everybody’s lack of fulfilment, and Vanya’s love struck niece Sonia, watching the love of her life (Dr Astrov) walk out of the door.  She has to return to her miserable uncle’s side when he learns that the estate he’s given his life to, is to be sold to fund his professor brother’s upgraded lifestyle in the Moscow salons.  There is much to say about this play – how it captures and prophesies both Marx and Freud’s notion of the neurotic bourgeoisie always on the look out for something better. It was a very fine production, with stellar acting drawing on contemporaneously generated emotions, and some terrific eco-politics. But please don’t read this as a serious review, rather an intro’ to a beautiful speech.  Maybe it’s the lockdown play?  Locked down literally as the production at the Harold Pinter Theatre was due to go to New York last April.  Covid put paid to that, so it went on telly instead. I found Sonia’s final speech a glass half full of lockdown tonic.

VANYA. [To SONIA, stroking her hair] Oh, my child, I am miserable; if you only knew how miserable I am!

SONIA. What can we do? We must live our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that life is beautiful; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile—and—we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith. [SONIA kneels down before her uncle and lays her head on his hands. She speaks in a weary voice] We shall rest. [TELEGIN plays softly on the guitar] We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see all evil and all our pain sink away in the great compassion that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and tender and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith. [She wipes away her tears] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying! [Weeping] You have never known what happiness was, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest. [She embraces him] We shall rest. [The WATCHMAN’S rattle is heard in the garden; TELEGIN plays softly; MME. VOITSKAYA writes something on the margin of her pamphlet; MARINA knits her stocking] We shall rest.


Jan Woolf



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