Time Out says
The biggest thing to hit Germany since David Hasselhoff, the great auteur director Katie Mitchell has been sequestered in Europe of late, crafting a series of ever more avant-garde works for her rabidly appreciative continental fanbase.
‘The Cherry Orchard’ marks a return to London – she’s directing three plays here before Christmas – a return to Chekhov – whose other major works she directed over a decade ago – and a return to collaboration with ‘Curious Incident…’ playwright Simon Stephens, who adapted the script.
It’s also been billed as a return to the naturalism of her early days after a decade drifting leftfield. And by Mitchell’s standards it is, though I can imagine Chekhov purists might be fairly horrified. In fact much as I loved the show, I was fairly horrified, because Mitchell has actually styled ‘The Cherry Orchard’ like a gothic horror.
Here, Chekhov’s skint aristocratic protagonists don’t lose their ancestral estate and fall apart with the usual bittersweet wistfulness: they disintegrate, sickeningly. There’s a real sense that profligate matriarch Lyubov Ranevskaya (Kate Duchêne) is losing her mind in a modern-ish dress production that’s defined by claustrophobically dim lighting and, frankly, terrifying sound design from Gareth Fry and Paul Clark, an ever-present series of industrial hums and roars and disembodied music floating in from distant rooms.
I couldn’t help but think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ – partly because of the peeling old wallpaper of Vicki Mortimer’s set, mostly because Mitchell and Stephens have refocussed Chekhov’s play into a potent study in feminine – rather than societal –collapse. With a large cast to be accommodated in under two hours, it’s not an especially actorly production, but there are stand-out turns from Duchêne as brittle Lyubov and Natalie Klamar as estate steward Varya, whose expected marriage to Dominic Rowan’s nouveau riche, Nick Clegg-ish Alexander slides painfully out of view as the play wears on.
Stephens’s adaptation is terse, blunt, and comes across an awful lot more like a Simon Stephens play than the hit version of ‘A Doll’s House’ he did here a couple of years ago. But Chekhov would be tedious if it was just the same exquisite melancholy every time – Katie Mitchell’s haunted country house is worth the admission.