The Hobbit star talks to Will Gompertz about the BBC 4-filmed stage adaptation of the classic Chekhov play Uncle Vanya

Wednesday 30 December 2020, 9:00 a.m.

Richard Armitage suspected the show wouldn’t go on.He had seen Broadway theaters in New York and realized that it was only a matter of time before London’s West End followed suit on Saturday the 14th On March 8th, he and the rest of the cast who appeared in the hit production of Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter Theater had played to a full house of people wearing masks. Ironically, “there was a significant reduction in the cough rate in the audience, which was great was, “recalls the actor

Two days later he came into the theater with a threatening feeling: “I knew it was coming,” he says. The show’s producer called the actors together and brought the news that there would be none that evening or for the foreseeable future Performance would be “We all stood there in shock and then we whipped up the prop vodka, which was actually real vodka, and we had a little spontaneous party and went home”

COVID-19 had abruptly ended one of London’s most critically acclaimed shows, Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1898 classic play about unrequited love and unrequited lives in the Russian middle class sent people from the other side of the world flying to Toby Jones , Rosalind Eleazar, Aimee Lou Wood and Anna Calder-Marshall alongside Armitage to see a production that The Guardian describes as “perfect”

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Actor Spooks and North & South is not one to rest on his laurels The next day, Armitage built a home radio studio and set about recording a backlog of audiobooks he promised to read after completing the assignment finished, he flew back to America and began developing projects for his newly founded production company.For him, his portrayal of the hard-drinking, socially conscious local doctor Astrov in Uncle Vanya – a role that Chekhov was partly based on his own experience as a paramedic – was in the Past

And then the phone rang. It was the producers of the London production who were wondering if he would fly back to make a filmed recording of the play. There was one caveat: it couldn’t happen “I knew there was a point where if I didn’t get on a plane I couldn’t be quarantined in time to shoot the film, so I got on a plane anyway, “he says.” If it falls apart, it falls apart. But me don’t want to be the reason it’s falling apart ”

It hasn’t fallen apart. Two weeks later, he and the original cast (with the exception of Roger Allam, who replaced the unavailable Ciarán Hinds as Professor Serebryakov) returned to an empty Harold Pinter Theater and the ghostly sight of their set now seemed in to be frozen in time

The six-camera film crew worked on one side of a COVID-19 divide while the actors repeated their roles on the other in front of banks with empty seats, a sight that took Armitage back to his early acting days, “In front of more people played on stage than in the audience “

The shooting lasted four days In the end, close-ups were taken by cameramen with full PPE on, and it was a joyful experience marked by sadness for everyone involved: they knew it was really the last time they would bring this hilarious, snappy version of Uncle Vanya to life The closing party was hardly legendary because the cast and crew weren’t allowed to meet. “So we all went outside in the rain and had champagne on the street,” recalls Armitage

He tells me that he hasn’t seen the finished production and that he can’t stand to look at himself “I’m always disappointed My blood runs cold I always think I’m so much better than I really am, I’ve got it however seen and reported that a five-star stage show has become a five-star film. Co-directors Ian Rickson and Ross MacGibbon have created an exquisite screen version full of vitality and soul It is not a statically filmed piece, but a dynamic film from a memorable production

Armitage believes this could be a model for the future to ensure that other successful West End shows can live beyond theater so that they can be seen by audiences far larger than ever before in a limited stage run

The pandemic put so much at risk that we had long taken it for granted, not least a visit to the theater, the live performance sector was devastated by the ongoing closure Many speculate that if the venues reopen completely and the performers will have changed their careers, Armitage is more hopeful: “I think there will be a massive surge of energy in these full house theaters; I want to be there I want to be in the audience The first few days back will be amazing ”

This interview originally appeared in Radio Times magazine, for the biggest interviews and best TV deals, subscribe to Radio Times now and don’t miss a copy

Uncle Vanya will air on BBC Four tonight.If you want to see more, check out our TV guide

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Uncle Vanya

World News – GB – Richard Armitage on how television saved Uncle Vanya – and how this could be the future for theater