Theatre Review: The Cherry Orchard at National Theatre

A poignant moment in Russia’s history is captured in Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD at the National Theatre

Set and written in the twilight years of old money Russian landowners, Anton Chekov’s 1904 play The Cherry Orchard occupies a unique place in dramatic history, closely preceding the social cataclysm that was the Bolshevik revolution.

Newcomers to Chekov may find his style tiresome. Director Howard Davies, whose rendering of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons blew the roof off the Apollo last year, fails to mitigate this fact and seems unsure how to handle the peculiar mix of farce and withering social commentary.

The realism that marks Chekov’s style feels uncomfortably disjointed, aloof and almost cynical here.

Perhaps I’m missing the point, but it’s hard to accept this as the intention when Davies and Co. are harvesting gags from slapstick.

The overall effect is somewhat hard to like.

It’s difficult then to feel much sympathy for Zoe Wannamaker’s gravelly, soft-hearted matriarch Ranyevskaya, no matter how much she sobs into her lace handkerchief, partly undermining Chekhov’s intention to offer a balanced view.

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In self-made Lopakhin’s view - played by Conleth Hill - cherry orchards are a luxury of the privileged few, frivolities to be replaced by the needs of the many.

Similarly, this production may please some audiences, but may well leave the majority unsatisfied.