Revelling in the dour drama of Uncle Vanya, Conor McPherson’s 2020 iteration releases Chekhov’s comedic undertones in waggish flutterings.

“Chekhov isn’t normally this funny” someone in the row behind proclaims at the half. With reference paid to missed opportunities, the meaninglessness of life and one’s general dissatisfaction with living throughout, you can see why such assertions might surface. But Chekhov is humorous – it’s simply that in his case, farce and foreboding come as a package deal. “That will be a chuckle and a smattering of Chekhovian darkness, please”. Obliging us, McPherson’s text plays to this prerequisite perfectly.

Sarcastic, cynical Vanya, played faultlessly by Toby Jones, asserts “everything is the same, expect worse”. Enduring existing, he, like Doctor Astrov (Richard Armitage), lives a mundane life in the countryside, with his niece Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood). The sudden return of Sonya’s father, Professor Serebryakov (Ciaran Hinds) accompanied by his new wife Yelena (Rosalind Eleazar), is a confronting visit. Declaring his intention to sell the family home, Professor Serebryakov appeals to the pragmatism of his family members in the hopes that he can continue to shepherd their thoughts and actions.

Agency is one of the play’s key drivers; the women are not afforded it, while the male characters fail to utilise theirs. It seems fated that they will all be deemed agentless by curtain. Act two sees Vanya draw a rifle – but he fails (twice) to wound his target despite standing mere feet from him. Then, in the closing scenes of the second act, the characters’ futility is clinched. Aimee Lou Wood’s unbarred performance as Sonya snubs her own aspirations is sure to bring you to the brink.

Directed by Ian Rickson, company-wide scenes present a sense of camaraderie (with a peppering of hostility, just because), while the play’s stolen moments allow hidden passions to expose themselves and grows the audiences’ relationship with individual characters. A highly atmospheric production – dimmed lighting and flickering candles are deployed for scene changes, overlapping with beautiful, haunting arrangements by Stephen Warbeck – Rae Smith’s impressive, Petersham-Nurseries style set provides a malleable space for this dark comedic drama to play out.

The play’s sobering summary will perhaps explain Vanya and the Doctor’s predeliction for a drink – and pays respect to the original playwright’s desolate desires.

Uncle Vanya runs at the Harold Pinter Theatre through 2nd May 2020.