Review – The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre

Friday 20 May 2011

“You’ll get in a right mess listening to words” says the all-knowing elderly butler Firs in Andrew Upton‘s version of The Cherry Orchard. And he’s quite right, Chekhov produced an awful lot of them and then adaptor Andrew Upton threw in a few of his own.

But unlike the critics who have gotten themselves into a real old tizzy about it the Whingers were in an unusually forgiving disposition.

It is true that “bozo” and a few other anachronisms occasionally jarred, as did “crap” and “bollocks”. But Andrew was quite happy when Upton pushed the anachronisms as far as taking a swipe at Phil’s favourite TV show with the line, “There’s nothing more repulsive than Loose Women.”

But it was when landowner Ranyevskaya drawled “Don’t waste your time watching plays – I bet it wasn’t funny at all,” that the Whingers realised that Upton was inviting them into bed with him. Let’s hope his wife Cate Blanchett rolls over and is happy to spoon.

This very classy production knocks into a cocked hat that slightly underbaked and stodgy one that the Mrs Bridges’ Project turned out a few years ago. It helps that director Howard Davies has cunningly planted some of the Whingers’ favourite NT stalwarts in his Cherry Orchard:

  • Conleth Hill (Lopakhin) is always welcome and especially when doing it Russian. The Whingers found him curiously ambiguous as the symbol of the new mercantile class rising up to supplant the obsolete Ranyevskaya, cutting down her cherry orchard along the way in a bid to become the Billy Butlin of 1904 Russia.
  • Pip Carter (Yepihodov) gets to do some more enjoyable physical comedy but this disappointingly gets dropped quite early on. Still, he is splendidly clutzy and especialy rubbish at book packing, having presumably taken lessons from the cast of In a Forest, Dark and Deep
  • Sarah Woodward (Charlotta) is used rather too sparingly for our tastes but her Act 3 magic act is fun and what that woman can’t do with a cucumber is nobody’s business.

There is also sterling work from James Laurenson (Gaev) as  Ranyevskaya’s sibling, Tim McMullan (Simyonov-Pishchik) who gets wonderfully pickled, veteran Kenneth Cranham as a very subtle Firs and Gerald Kyd (Yasha) who cuts a bit of dash for a mere manservant and acts as though he knows it too. Is he just a servant, or has he snuck upstairs? One member of the ensemble looks like Rupert Everett painted by El Greco.

All this class is topped off with Zoë Wanamaker’s Ranyevskaya who switches nicely between skittish girl and venerable ostrich. She is so adamant about her damned cherry orchard that we wouldn’t have been surprised if she had chained herself to one of her blessed trees.

Davies bakes his cherry pie for nearly 3 hours under low-light (atmospherically achieved by Neil Austin, including fireflies!) which is a bit too long us. Some of the fat in Act 2 needs trimming – in fact most of it could happily go and then one wouldn’t have to dedicate the entire evening to it. Still, the dilapidated set by one of the Whingers’ favourite designers Bunny Christie is rather delightful. This is her first Chekhov production apparently and the Whingers heartily congratulate her for not having a single cherry tree or silver birch. And for once we weren’t longing for the sound of chainsaws.


Rating score 4-5 full-bodied


8 Responses to “Review – The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre”

  1. margarita Says:

    You obviously weren’t irritated as I was by the even, over emphatic divided style of speaking very carefully and pointedly at all times. It also slowed things down to make it so long:


    Yes, it’s a big theatre but this is excessive spoon feeding s l o w kiddy talk.

  2. MarieMJS Says:

    Obviously, considering the general great reviews I’ve read about this, I was one of the very few to find the play quite… dull?? The acting was good, the sets were gorgeous but it was lacking something, some kind of energy and drive, and I never connected with the characters during the whole thing. It was proper and well done, and just… not memorable.

  3. Dominick Says:

    I couldn’t disagree more Marie! I thought it was anything but dull!

  4. The Omnivore Says:

    Read all about the critics “real old tizzy” with the press roundup for The Cherry Orchard at The Omnivore:

  5. Catty Says:

    We must remember that Stanislavski’s staging of this play was
    actually very symbolic. In essence the purist Chekhov was intended as harsh almost brutal and with a darkly comedic edge. Engaging with the characters was not quite the effect he had in mind. He was strangely Brechtian in the sense you would laugh at their tragic ineffectiveness and spur you on as a spectator to march with the progress of change.
    I’m seeing this version this month and look forward to it greatly.

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