The Cherry Orchard

Theatre, Drama
2 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

There's a lot of dead wood in this clunky take on Chekhov's classic

It’s a strange thing watching Chekhov’s late masterpiece about a world on the brink of collapse when it feels the wheels of our own contemporary meltdown are firmly in motion. And this new production, running as part of the Arcola’s rep season marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, does little to aid its resonance.

There’s a severe pacing issue undermining Mehmet Ergen’s staging, which uses a rarely-seen version by Trevor Griffiths based on a translation by Helen Rappaport (this is its London debut). It feels inert; far too static and episodic in its construction. Griffiths’ lean adaptation aims to emphasise the play’s comic elements, but here they mostly fail to fly. The rhythm is off.

Despite these drawbacks there are some enjoyable performances. Sian Thomas’s affecting Mme Ranevsky, whose largesse masks her trauma at losing a child, injects badly needed poignancy. Jude Akuwudike's Lopakhin, the former peasant who ends up purchasing the estate, also hints at inner turmoil. And Abhin Galeya impresses as student radical Trofimov, whose impassioned speeches are often considered the closest to Chekhov’s own voice. But others struggle to find the right tone, which is hardly surprising when there’s such a mishmash of ideas on show.

Iona McLeish’s design creates a sense of otherworldly grandeur, with a large white bookcase and tree dominating the three-sided space. But the decadence clashes with costumes that include jeans, trainers and donkey jackets. Where and when are we meant to be? In a play where sense of place is so key, there is little of it in evidence here.

Chekhov can withstand reinvention, and there have been some superb productions recently to prove it, including Robert Icke’s Vanya and David Hare’s Young Chekhov trilogy. But where others have made him feel startlingly contemporary, here he feels dully irrelevant. Like the cherry orchard itself, the play feels crudely hacked, and bears little fruit as a result.

By: Theo Bosanquet



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