During rehearsals for Andrew Scott’s solo version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, which had a sold out run in the West End last year, one tricky question arose. How do you do a sex scene when there’s only one actor? The answer was an intense moment with Scott pushing himself against a door as he played the encounter between the characters Helena and Michael in Simon Stephens’ new version of the play.
The scene, said Scott, inadvertently provided a unique way to dispel the unease that audiences can sometimes have during intimate moments of drama. “You can be really aware of not the characters but the actors playing them,” he said. “I think there’s something about the fact that it’s just one actor that disables that discomfort – you’re not concerned, worried or embarrassed for them.” As the scene was not explicit, he added, it allowed the audience’s “imagination to take flight a bit more. It was up to me to create that atmosphere.”
The actor, who has won praise for his performance in All of Us Strangers, was speaking earlier this week after a preview screening of National Theatre Live’s film of Vanya, which was recorded at the Duke of York’s theatre in London last year and will be released in cinemas on 22 February. At a panel discussion moderated by Aisling Bea, he was joined by Stephens, the play’s director Sam Yates and its designer Rosanna Vize. Scott said he had at first been sceptical of the idea of playing all the characters and that it had come about almost by accident after he accidentally read a line designated for someone else when he had a read through with Stephens and Yates.
Scott said that the characters in Uncle Vanya all talk about their different plights but that by playing all of the roles, the production had shown that they are more similar than they might think. He added that an element of detective work had sometimes been required by audiences to decipher which character was which and joked that one advantage of not having any co-stars was that you didn’t need to worry so much about the impact of any mistakes.
Stephens, who has also adapted The Cherry Orchard (in 2014) and The Seagull (in 2017) and wants to write English-language versions of Chekhov’s other plays, said that “there are no better actors” than Scott. Yates, who attended every performance of the play, said it had been a privilege to watch Scott each time.