Iwas running late to the theatre and had to make my way around the front row and right by the terrifying black hole like curtain that fully separates the stage from the audience. Unlike my last visit to the Young Vic, for a Streetcar Named Desire, where the seating fully surrounded an open rotating stage giving the audience a view from every direction, here there was a firm divide. I felt something akin to fear as the curtain lifted with a loud industrial noise to reveal the stark set of the nursery past its prime and the wonderful cast of characters that make up Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard.
In an attempt to see all the classics, I was very excited for this production and as is my preferred choice I didn’t actually familiarise myself with the plot beforehand.
For those similarly uneducated, the Cherry Orchard is a Russian tragi-comedy set in the eve of the decline of the aristocracy 40 odd years after the abolition of serfdom. Wealthy landowners suddenly devout of free labour and used to lavish lifestyles struggled to adapt and naturally ended up with huge debts. In the case of our protagonists, this results in the inevitable auctioning of the family house and the destruction of the eponymous cherry orchard. It’s at its core tragic, as it deals with the overwhelming grief of losing a child, losing your home and your entire purpose of being, but with certain absurd comic moments (beware the unexpected nudity!) and an intriguing and distinct cast of characters. All of this makes for thoroughly entertaining two hours.
Katie Mitchell’s naturalist style means that various characters spend some time with their backs to the audience, in a way that I found a bit obstructing and distracting. It made me aware of it and consciously think, ohh this is meant to be natural, I see, which presumably isn’t the idea? It’s a new version written by Simon Stephens, which has altogether modern turns of phrase and language, which I am unable to compare to more classic translation, or indeed to the Russian text, so any purists might be disinclined to agree, but I liked it.
The characters and plot are compelling and it even made me laugh a few times and not in the ‘ha-ha this bit is intended to be funny, even though it is actually tragic so I am going to laugh obnoxiously to show that I am learned.’ but actually funny.
Overall, I loved the play itself, though I am not sure how much this particular production added to that. I might even try and read the original. My Russian is rusty at best, but I did manage to get through most Crime and Punishment a few years ago, so it might be worth a try.