The Cherry Orchard, Old Vic, June 2009

the bridge project

This, the last of Chekhov’s plays, is being produced along with The Winter’s Tale, as part of The Bridge Project using a mix of British and American actors.

It was presented more as comedy than tragedy in Sam Mendes’ production, performed to a translation by Tom Stoppard. The comedy was effective in showing the head-in-the-sand attitude of a family who are more concerned with romance and betrothal than finding a way out of their financial difficulties. Indeed, Sinead Cusack came over well as the mother, Ranevskaya who is in denial of her impecuniosity, and unwilling to face the prospect of tearing down her beloved cherry orchard and using the land for summer cottages. Simon Russell Beale as the ex-serf Lopakhin did a splendid job of trying to impose some rational behaviour on these once-wealthy landowners, warning them they will lose the whole estate if they do nothing. As they remain paralysed in a state of denial he buys it himself, owning the place to which his father and grandfather were once indentured.

While I regard Ranevskaya and Lopakhin as the principal characters, the rest of the cast did very well, and this was a team performance without anyone dominating things. When Ranevskaya returns from Paris to her estate she brings her 17-year old daughter Anya, well portrayed by Morven Christie, and the girl’s German governess Charlotta, dramatically played by Selina Cadell, who did a wonderful job of the conjuring tricks in the party scene. Rebecca Hall as Ranevskaya’s adopted daughter Varya had excellent stage presence with her brooding angst, and yearning for Lopakhin. The large cast comprises some twenty-odd characters, so I shall only mention two or three more. Ethan Hawke was suitably irritating as the student and ex-tutor of Ranevskaya’s late son, Paul Jesson was good as the sentimentally silly brother of Ranevskaya, and Richard Easton did an excellent job as the old retainer who is left behind in the sealed-up house after the others have all left. As he slumps in a chair, falls off and lies on the ground we hear a sharp crack, signifying the beginning of the end of the cherry orchard as the first tree falls.

The set design by Anthony Ward was a raised platform with carpets but no other scenery, and the lighting by Paul Pyant worked well, as did the sound by Paul Arditti, with music by Mark Bennett. Costumes by Catherine Zuber were of the period, namely start of the twentieth century. All in all a simple but effective production, and a fine performance from the cast of British and American actors.

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