Ruth Leon Pocket Theatre Review

Ruth Leon Pocket Theatre Review

The Cherry Orchard – Donmar Warehouse

If you are prepared to forego Chekhov, the new Cherry Orchard at the Donmar is tremendous. Benedict Andrews has adapted and directed this production, jettisoning Chekhov’s language but mining his meaning.

The old order is changing. Russia’s aristocrats can’t see that their world is disappearing and that compromises will have to be made if they are to hang on to any part of the Russia they have exploited heedlessly for generations. The serfs, they will soon find out, won’t have it. And not just the serfs. There’s now a rising middle class who know more and want more in the shape of wide boy Lopatkhin (brilliant Adeel Akhtar). He knows how to shape the old estate so the family can remain in their crumbling house but, to do it, they will have to sell off some land for development, sell their ancestral cherry orchard.

Unthinkable, says the lady of the house, the imperious, feckless Ranyevskaya, (a stunning Nina Hoss), and her brother, the hapless drunk Gaev, in a delicate performance from Michael Gould. Everyone else knows that change must come, the cherry orchard will have to go, and the servants will move on to a different if not exactly better life.

All except the oldest retainer, Firs, female here, (a wonderful June Watson) who worries only that Gaev is not wearing a warm enough jacket. She sees all, says little, but knows that disaster is coming to the family she and her ancestors have given their lives to.

Australian Andrews has thrown everything at this production. There are on-stage musicians, clothes that could grace any contemporary festival, music that Checkhov would certainly never recognise, a set which consists only of a carpet wrapped around the action, a smoke machine, and the actors sitting among the audience when they are not required.

The dialogue is peppered with swearing, the ‘f’ and ‘c’ words merely punctuation into virtually every line, spoken freely by all the characters Chekhov gave us. They are all here and, if you know the play you will quickly plug into the way they fulfil Chekhov’s intentions while looking and sounding a million miles from his original setting for them. The performances from the entire company are exciting and accurate as to character.

You may be shocked by the extremes of the production, I was, but I was won over by the sense that this great play has lost none of its greatness. Just its language. 

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