The Great Scott

Taking on all the parts in Chekov’s classic play, Andrew Scott shines in Vanya.

It takes a certain kind of actor to take on Uncle Vanya, especially given the many productions of Anton Chekov’s tragicomedy that has graced the stage since it debuted at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1899.

And it takes a whole different breed of actor to take on this classic of the stage entirely on your own.

“It was during pre-production for an early read-through of a planned full-cast production that we realised that Andrew Scott would be a very good Uncle Vanya,” says Simon Stephens, adapter and co-creator, alongside director Sam Yates, is responsible for the new, daring Chekov adaptation. “And we realised then that he would be a good Michael. And if he might be a good Michael, he would be a good Alexander. And if he’s a good Alexander, he might be a good Sonya.

“Then maybe, he should just do everything…”

Having become a name through TV’s Sherlock and Fleabag, as well as movies such as Spectre (2015), 1917 (2019) and the recent All Of Us Strangers, Dublin-born Andrew Scott has also made an impact on the stage, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor the 2019 production of Present Laughter at The Old Vic and the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement In An Affiliate Theatre for the his role in 2005’s A Girl In A Car With A Man at the Royal Court Theatre.

Described by Vanya director Yates as “one of the best actors in the world”, for Scott, this new daring production of Uncle Vanya was simply about “the opportunity to get to do Chekov – I think he’s one of the greatest ever playwrights. I just think he understands humanity more than any other human being.”

As to the process of having one actor play all the parts in Uncle Vanya, Yates tells WhatsOnStage, “In rehearsals, we just kept pushing the form, and every time we pushed, it seemed to give something back. We never reached a dead end with it.

“And then there came a point when we had to take a massive leap of faith with it and say, ‘We think there are enough seeds in the ground for this to actually be a thing.”

Adds Scott, “What’s so liberating about doing the show is that it’s not based on my castability. As actors, there’s lots of stuff we’d like to play but we’re not necessarily physically right for. So, there’s something very liberating about playing different people – different ages, and genders, experiences and physicalities – but what you’re actually looking at is the way the mechanics of their mind works.”

And it’s an approach that seems to have worked. Debuting in September 2023 on the West End, the reviews were largely ecstatic, with The Evening Standard viewing this one-man take on Chekov as ‘no vanity project or gimmick; it’s a distillation of his compassion and humanity that creates something new’. The Guardian noted that Scott gives a ‘thrillingly virtuoso performance’, whilst The Independent regarded the Irish actor’s take as ‘funny, sexy and surprisingly emotional’.

Finishes Scott, “You just have to keep the spirit of the play alive. I always say that. You have to trust the audience too. I think the audience like to do a little detective work, and you can steer them in a certain direction and then you can let go of the stabilisers and cycle freely, once they’re clear.

“The genius and extraordinary humanity of Chekov just knocks me out…”

You can check out Andrew Scott’s Vanya with National Theatre LIVE at The Whale on Thursday, March 28th 2024. Tickets here: Cover shot: Marc Brenner.



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