translated by Michael Frayn
Anton Chekhov’s painful drama of purposeless lives was rewritten from an earlier unsuccessful play called The Wood Demon (1889). Uncle Vanya was first seen in Stanislavsky’s production at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1899.
Professor Serebryakov and his lovely but lethargic wife Yelena retire to his country estate. This has been managed for many years by Vanya, a futile character eaten up with a sense of his own failure. Also in the household is the professor’s daughter Sonya, who nurses a hopeless love for the local doctor, Astrov. When Serebryakov suggests selling the estate, Vanya goes berserk and tries to shoot him. Characteristically, despite firing at point-blank range, he misses. The professor and his wife leave, and Vanya sinks back into his life of hopeless routine.
In the words of the critic Desmond McCarthy, the play ends with ‘that dreariest of all sensations: beginning life again on the flat when, a few hours before, it has run shrieking up the scale of pain till it seemed the very skies might split’.
The first British production of Uncle Vanya was that mounted by the Stage Society at the Aldwych Theatre in 1914. Laurence Olivier played the complex role of Astrov at the Old Vic in 1944 and again for the famous 1963 production at the Chichester Festival, which had Michael Redgrave in the title role and Joan Plowright as Sonya.
This edition of the play was translated by Michael Frayn and features a chronology and introduction by the translator.