Vanya On 42nd Street Review

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Louis Malle's latest begins with random shots of a gaggle of actors struggling through the New York streets to meet for a rehearsal of Anton Chekhov's charged play Uncle Vanya at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street.

Once there, its director (Gregory) and cast, headed by Shawn and Moore) gather in the magnificent gloom of the building, babbling on about their smoking habits and discussing their latest idols, before finally getting down to some serious work.

And so, eventually, Chekhov's play - set in a decaying Russian estate and centred around languishing beauty Moore who puts everyone, including her faithful retainer Vanya (Shawn) under her spell, culminating in an ending packed with violence - begins to unfold, giving you a sneaking suspicion that the film is going to be pretentious, self-involved and dull.

Malle manages to avoid this, thanks to the conviction of a David Mamet script rather than any particular skill on the part of himself or his actors. This is doubly impressive given that the original play still has all its themes - exile, angst, vocation, salvation - preserved intact with only the language having been beefed up with the Mamet edge.

As it criss-crosses between the play itself and the reality surrounding it, Malle's film is highly successful at making the weighty Chekhov play accessible to a modern audience.

The drawback, however, is that the actors chew the scenery in true stagecraft fashion, which, on film, induces regular wincing and a wish that they would hand out the valium and take it easy.