Uncle Vanya, fifth and sixth impressions [could include spoilers] #richardarmitage

I have fewer notes today for various reasons (less was new to me, I was more contemplative as this was my last day, I ended up in a few conversations). Also I need to get my stuff together to fly.

14:30 matinee

I was seated in E8 stalls — great seat. I would say all in all the sweet spot of this theatre is probably in rows E through J in the center; second choice would be between first four rows in the center and first row of dress circle.

I felt this was a stronger performance than the evening show. However, I also would say this show really doesn’t bear watching twice in a day if you have other opportunities for a second watch and want to see it again. My mind was unpleasantly swirling at the end.

Trivia: I don’t think I’ve mentioned that there are two jokes right at the beginning that almost appear to be designed for Armitage fans. One is about the beard. Definitely warms up the in-crowd audience. I won’t spoil them now but they should be obvious from the script, when it comes out. In Act II, Sonia seems to have changed how she makes Astrov’s sandwich. Initially she gave him two thick pieces of bread with the crust on; now she seems to be removing the crust to make it easier for him to speak through the crumbs.

A new fave moment of mine that emerged most fully today: in Act II, during the drunken singing, they sing a song that goes “No bed for the master / The moon (or “no moon”) in the sky / My love, will you open the door?” I thought this was a Russian song but if it is I haven’t identified in. It certainly sounds Russian. Anyway, today during the second line, Armitage gestured at his own rear end (and escalated that a bit more obviously in the evening show). I can imagine this being escalated almost indefinitely — a very fruitful moment.

The main theme that seems to dominate my notes is the question of what the trajectory of Astrov’s reaction to Yelena is. Their chief physical interactions (abortive kiss in Act III, farewell and embrace in Act IV) have changed quite a bit even in the six shows I’ve seen. It seems to have something to do with how much tension they manage to build up before they get to Act III. Astrov’s first approach to her is always quite nasty — chastising her for dragging him out to see her husband, who doesn’t want Astrov’s care. He also spends a lot of time looking at her while he thinks she’s not noticing (and vice versa, although she spends quite a bit less time on this). There’s also a quite funny moment in Act I when Vanya, Astrov, and Telegin are all looking her up and down at the same time from three different perspectives. Anyway, the Act III abortive kiss in this show was the most emotionally so far. From where I was seated, I got a glimpse of Astrov’s face just as he was about to push himself on her. There was just a second of really intense bloodlust. I don’t know how to describe it but I have not seen that expression on his face before in a romantic situation. It was a kind of “I will have this” mood. This enouncter isn’t quite an assault, as he eventually lets her bend her head away — but it’s the kind of kiss that might have been considered tempestuous even a decade ago. It’s clear that Yelena doesn’t want it and Astrov can’t hear her. I wish I could watch this about ten more times to see how they do it.

My other macro insight about this show was that I really started to dislike Vanya. I kind of felt like he was just manipulating everyone to get what he wanted; i.e., the departure of the professor. It’s not that simple, as he doesn’t seem to be anticipating the “business proposal” of Act III, but Toby Jones seemed really manipulative today in the role — doing whatever he could (even in the scenes with Yelena) to make everyone angrier. (To some extent this perception was heightened by a conversation I overheard in the later show, where a couple was discussing who the real antagonist of this play is.)

Overheard in the interval: “Betrayal was good, but this is SO much deeper and better.” I’ve never seen Betrayal, but eat your heart out anyway, Hiddles.

There were fans lined up at the stage door and I know that Ciaran Hinds appeared for fans, but I didn’t wait around to see more.

After the show I was able to speak to Rosalind Eleazar (Yelena in the play) in the bar very briefly (obviously she was tired and I didn’t want to risk preventing her from recharging) — will leave this for now as I want to write about how women’s issues fell out for me in this play. Anyway, she was quite nice and I suspect, given the attention for the three male leads and Aimee Lou Wood (who is in some kind of hit tv show) she is under-appreciated. Yet she is the character with whom I as watcher identified the most. (Not Astrov, which is a bit surprising to me).


I was in the front row of the dress circle, which I preferred slightly less to the aisle seat in that section that I’d had earlier, mainly due to leg room issues.

On the whole, I felt this performance had somewhat less pep to it (not surprising as they’d already been through it during the day). I was also sadder — realizing that this was the last time I’ll see Armitage performing in the flesh for who knows how long. He has such presence that even if I’d tired of this play (and I don’t think I could watch this every day), I’d still want to come to follow him around on the stage with my eyes. I’d want to watch him move the way Astrov seems to want to watch Yelena move. (Which isn’t an especially reassuring insight about myself, I’m afraid)

Two things I want to note for future reference and maybe some thought on the way home — first, to what extent should we take the idealistic but self-pitying Astrov seriously? I had the impression tonight that Armitage was moving more toward sarcasm at certain moments (but that may be my own overload with this play — even if I lived here I’d have to take a day off at this point). In particular, it’s hard for me to reconcile his repetition of the insight that in a century they will be slumbering and out of pain with his relatively scientific and political approach to life. Why does he have to keep reassuring himself?

Second, and in connection with this: I realize that key to accepting Armitage’s performance — and not seeing Astrov as someone who’s constantly playing for sympathy — is seeing Astrov as a man in the iron grip of this one traumatic memory about the boy who died under chloroform after the railroad accident. For me, anyway, this works better if Astrov seems to be struggling more generally — i.e., that the character is less pleasant. It’s not that he needs to be more in the grip of alcohol that he is — but he maybe needs to be a bit rougher on the edges, a bit more openly impatient? I felt that this didn’t work especially well for Armitage in the first performances that I saw, but that it got better in the last two, i.e., that I didn’t find myself thinking Astrov was being melodramatic when talking about the accident. It’s interesting to me that Astrov is the only man who follows the manners about standing in the presence of a lady and I felt that something could be done there; one’s execution of manners often reveals the extent to which one feels integrated or separated from the society around one. I also felt that there could be something different (or more?) around the offering of alcohol, his refusals (or acceptances), and the fact that he seems not to be eating.

There was a long stage door line and a very vocally aggressive security person. Armitage again faked out the autograph salesmen and seemed to have time to give almost everyone something. You could tell he was a bit tireder because he returned to his characteristic “bless you” response to compliments in a lot of cases. I think I would suggest, if the stage door experience is really important to you, to try to go on a week night that doesn’t have a matinee performance.

So that’s it for me from London. Lots on my mind, but I need to get home. Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a bit as the semester starts Monday and I hear there were seven inches of snow yesterday. Thanks for reading.

~ by Servetus on January 19, 2020.

23 Responses to “Uncle Vanya, fifth and sixth impressions [could include spoilers] #richardarmitage”

  1. It was bugging me recalling where I saw Rosalind Eleazar so I looked her up and bing it was on Harlots, a show on Hulu that was on Superchannel up here. (Ironically, I watched its second season at the same time as Berlin Station.)

    She had a major storyline and the whole show inspired me to read one of its source materials, The Covent Garden Ladies: The Extraordinary History of Harris’ List. I cut my cable and want to see the third season. By the way, she was Violet for anyone reading this comment.


    • Also, I have Sex Education, Aimee Lou Wood’s show, ready to go on Netflix. Saw the first season and anxious to watch the second. Her season 2 character poster has her holding a baseball bat. Checkov’s bat anyone?


    • Eleazar is really fantastic in this role. I hope she continues to get serious roles. (She is also gorgeous.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for the reviews. They gave me some food for thought and pointers to look for if I’m able to cross the pond in April. You have a safe trip back. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for your thoughts, I’ve enjoyed reading all your UV posts, and safe travels back home.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and impressions. I know it’s not your thing, but did RA’s reported new friendly vibe lure you in to get an autograph or selfie?


    • I did get an autograph (I did that in NYC, too, it seems okay) and I spent some time debating the selfie question (again!) and decided against. Although as i honestly thought that question was over for me I was a bit surprised that it reappeared.


  5. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and impressions. I know it’s not your thing, but did RA’s reported new friendly vibe lure you in to get an autograph or selfie?


  6. We arrived just as the matinee finished and we were surprised that people were waiting at the SD my friend asked a couple whom they waiting for and they said CH and TJ next minute CH appeared we left them because we had to eat before the evening performance.
    I am glad you thought the same as we did about the loud security guard totally unnecessary imo
    We were in the dress circle too, no problems with the view but I did miss some of the dialogue my hearing isn’t as good as it once was lol
    Next time I am in the stalls, it might be better for me.
    Overall I enjoyed the play, Toby Jones was the star he had all the best lines, Richard did well enough with the part, he isn’t one to try to act others off the stage and it was a role which felt to me anyway that he was’ dipping his toe’ back in the waters of London theatre and might lead to more.
    Nice autograph from Richard and CH Toby Jones didn’t have a pen!
    I eventually found one but he had gone so I asked Rosalind Eleazar she seemed pleased to sign.
    I will be ready next time for Jones ( he seems very shy!)


    • Did they all appear at the same time at the SD?


      • Yes, RA goes swiftly to the end of the line and works back to the SD while the other two commenced from the SD
        Because I was about half way down the line it was touch and go who would reach me first CH signed then RA the girl to my right was missed by RA so my friend suggested she moved further to our left she was delighted that she got her autograph eventually, it obviously meant so much to her.

        Liked by 1 person

    • that security guard was annoying. I think he was enjoying yelling at us before we actually did anything wrong.

      I never actually saw Jones — I know he came out a few times but I couldn’t see him. I agree, he definitely does not seem to be into it at all.


  7. Thank you for posting in such detail. I look forward to reading more about your adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hope you got home safe and sound. Was there no matinee on Wednesday or did you skip it?


  9. Hope you have a smooth re-entry into your home life and work.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for your very, very intersting reviews and impressions!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for al the positive comments!


  12. Re-reading this before hopefully watching on telly tomorrow night. Lots of great obs here! 😎
    Re Astrov standing for the ladies etc – he is the guest in the household – everyone else is family. He is most respectful for Grandma (Dearbhla Molloy) where there is the greatest age difference so most deference is required, and shown. 🥰

    I agree that the death of the signalman young man was probably a tipping point – after a series of traumatic events – he mentions treating the epidemic – which must have been a dreadful experience. Alcohol is a depressant too. 🥺

    I’ve recently been thinking about his map-making. It’s a good craft meditative / absorbing process – a mindful action that is good for him. It’s geeky too, and makes me think of a slight Aspergers leaning?

    So perhaps Astrov isn’t good at the emotional stuff? So sliding into PTSD was probably inevitable without having anyone to talk things through – he says he can only talk to Sonya.

    Enough thoughts for now. Best wishes


    • I think the canon of European manners would still require men to rise when ladies / esp senior ladies entered the room (maybe not Sonia). Vanya should certainly rise when Grandmama enters, for instance. It was a striking contrast, anyway, and made him look like he was trying hard.


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