The Cherry Orchard
Theatre Royal Bath an Oxford Stage Company production
In his book Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer writes of his thwarted attempts to write a serious biography of the author D H Lawrence. Ive found myself similarly mired, though in frustration rather than ire, in trying to write a review of Oxford Stage Companys production of Chekhovs The Cherry Orchard, currently playing in London after its opening at Baths Theatre Royal (See Philip Fisher's review).
Id looked forward to the show with some anticipation, despite seeing a first-rate production at the National Theatre only a few years ago starring the inimitable Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, aware of the high reputation of the company under the directorship of Dominic Dromgoole whose recent production of the Russian playwrights Three Sisters elicited excited reviews.
It is a play too that I admire and have enjoyed for its humour, its art and its profound understanding and clinical skewering of the vanities and vicissitudes of human existence. Yet there was a problem viewing and subsequently reviewing this production. Put simply, I couldnt and cant work up any enthusiasm about it. I didnt hate it, but then I didnt like it either. Somehow it failed to connect, my first with a Chekhov production. It is only fair to point out here that this adaptation, featuring a new translation by Samuel Adamson, has been reviewed favourably by the critics of two national newspapers thus far so perhaps the problem is with me.
The first, welcoming thing, to say about this production is that it features a variety of English and UK accents Geordie, Northern Irish, Scottish, a refreshing change from English actors pretending to be Russian. A similar gambit was used in the Young Vic adaptation of Lope De Vegas Peribanez, sidestepping the embarrassing spectacle of English actors pretending to be Spanish. The translation too has a fresh, spikier feel. Chekhov could be salty in his language and isnt the native playwright of demure sitting room drama he can sometimes be made to be.
The set though is dreadful. Some reviewers recently have grumbled loudly about the set of the RSCs brilliant adaptation of Ibsens Brand, because it didnt give us mountains and fjords. Ive no problem with minimalism but the "dangling curtains of overblown cotton buds", as one reviewer has accurately described them, to suggest the cherry orchard blossom, are just naff.
This didnt seem the funniest Cherry Orchard (which a Freudian slip of the keyboard translated into The Cheery Orchard) Ive seen and Chekhov did intend people to laugh at his work in the right places but then, as Ive said, it didnt really move me. Some people have suggested Vanessa Redgrave was over the top as Ranevskaya, something one couldnt accuse Geraldine James of here. Personally I liked the vim and vigour she and the rest of the cast brought to the play. Isnt passion and the thwarting of it part of the point of Chekhov witness Kristin Scott Thomass recent unforgettable portrayal of Masha in Three Sisters at the Playhouse?
I liked Trevor Foxs Lopakhin and Abigail McKerns Charlotta but, these performances aside, I found this production curiously bloodless. Discuss.
Reviewer: Pete Wood