The Cherry Orchard – The National Theatre – Review

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Chekhov is having an abundance of productions on in London at the moment. One of the most notable is this production of Chekhov’s last play The Cherry Orchard, which having read it a few time for college, has always been one of my favourite plays of his.

Andrew Upton has provided the new translation for this production, it is a translation that brings this play really into the here and now. The sense of humour comes out much better than the more “stuffy” translations I’ve read in the past, I also felt the characters came across in a much more real way. Yes, this is a period play, but this had a contemporary edge that I’ve not felt in the other translations I’ve read.

As you can see from the poster above this production is very much a star vehicle for Zoe Wanamaker, and she gives a first class performance as Ranyevskaya. Despite this characters flaws, Zoe Wanamaker creates a real sense of sadness at her final scene where she has to leave the house that has been her family home for all these generations.

James Laurenson as Gaev, played the bumbling character with great skill and charm. While his sidekick Kenneth Cranham as Firs was funny throughout and his final scene brought a lump to my throat as it’s so tragic an end.

Mark Bonnar as the socialist student Trofimov gave an exciting and dynamic performance, this character has always been the one I’ve identified most with in this play and his impassioned speeches on the future were given with great passionate gusto. My wife (who had not seen or read the play previosuly), said she thought this character reminded her of me too. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I’m not sure, but I’m sure I too will be a perpetual student (for me theatre is my topic) too.

I really enjoyed the trio of Claudie Blakley, Charity Wakefield and Sarah Woodward as Varya, Anya and Charlotta respectively. They gave each of these three women their own distinct voice and gave them spirited performances. I enjoyed Sarah Woodward’s magic performance in Act 2, as someone who has been a professional magician for over a decade, I’ve always wondered how this scene should/could be done (and I’ve come up with a few solutions of my own), this is certainly an object lesson to all in how to make this scene work, dramatically and magically.

The set is stunning, I wondered how a naturalistic play like this would work in the voluminous theatre that is the Nationals Olivier Theatre. Howard Davies as director and Bunny Christie as the designer have created a wonderful set for this play. I loved the wooden feel of the house, and the use of light, especially in the closing scene as it peeked through the cracks in the shutters, an innovative use of the lighting and set. Howard Davies direction really helped elevate this fresh translation and whilst the play is set in 1905, as I said earlier it felt modern.

So for those like me that have had to study Chekhov, I really recommend this production, not just because it’s always helpful to see  a play rather than just read it, but I actually think you’ll leave this production with a greater appreciation for Chekhov. For those that admire Chekhov (as I do), you’ll come away with a fresh slant on this classic, that whilst you may not enjoy as much as I did,  I think you’ll appreciate it. For those that don’t know who Chekhov is or anything about this play, I think you’ll enjoy this to, it’s well acted, brilliantly set and directed and the translation means it’s extremely accessible, without it becoming to “wiv it” or silly.

Another aspect I was so pleased to see was that this WAS a funny production. Chekhov said this is a comedy and it certainly felt like I was watching a funny play (despite its sad ending) today. There was some outstanding physical comedy, some excellent witty characterisation and a real sense of fun. To those that think Chekhov is dull, depressing or boring, see this and I think you’ll be persuaded that he is extremely witty as a writer.

I’ve come away from this production with my interest and appreciation for Chekhov fired up, it’s a pity I don’t need to study him for any modules this year. This production is part of the Travelex £12 ticket scheme, you’d be mad to miss this for such a bargain price.

Ps. if you can’t get to London to see it, but you’re studying Chekhov, treat yourself to a copy of Andrew Upton’s translation as it’ll give you a fresh slant on this play.

pps. I forgot to mention when I wrote this yesterday that this production will be beamed live throughout the world via the NT Live initiative in June. For those nowhere near London (they even beam it to Australia), hopefully this’ll give you a chance to see it too.

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One thought on “The Cherry Orchard – The National Theatre – Review

  1. Pingback: Five Fave Featres « Theatre Thoughts Blog

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