'The Cherry Orchard' review or 'The cherry never falls far from the tree.'

'The Cherry Orchard', Anton Chekhov. New version by Andrew Upton
National Theatre, Tuesday 17th May 2011
Writen for The Ham & High

Zoe Wanamaker in 'The Cherry Orchard'. Photo Credit: Catherine Ashmore

Chekhov's 'Cherry Orchard' is about a near-penniless Russian aristocratic family, at the turn of the 20th Century, who return to their family estate only to see it sold. It is about the rise of the bourgeoisie, about society in flux. It is about an awful lot and if it isn't handled with panache but also great sensitivity it risks feeling clunky, even emotionally sparse.

Andrew Upton's accented new version isolates some spicy characters but the flavouring is odd. The script is peppered with modern day slang - bozo, crap artist and busy body – which ring sharply. These anachronistic touches lend a false sheen to the characters and their words. 

Howard Davies' direction thickens things out a little. Davies' cast orbits around Ranyevskaya (Zoe Wanamaker), the returning landowner who has had endless lovers but little love. We realise it is the opposite sexes' fickle devotion to Ranyevskaya that has created her complexities; loving but lonely, generous but destitute, capricious but emotionally astute. Wanamaker welds herself to the chairs, shelves or tables in her house, grasping onto the one constant love of her life. 

Conleth Hill impresses as enterprising merchant Lopahkin, on the cusp of ascending into a position in society he isn't quite ready for. He might order champagne but he doesn't know fine wines. And he might boast about buying Ranyevskaya's Cherry Orchard but he also falls at her feet, weeping for forgiveness.

Bunny Christie's elegant set also finds poetic beauty in Chekhov's pathos-swept comedy. When tutor Petya spots beautiful daughter Anya, he utters 'My Spring!' and the dark interior of the wooden house opens onto a light dappled back garden. This switch from dank depression to expansive promise is breathtakingly romantic. Yet it is striking that we must look to a sliding set for Chekhov's play to really move us.


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