Chekhov’s masterpiece is brought robustly up to date in Howard Davies’ subtle and powerful reimagining. A telephone wire looms overhead and early scenes echo to the crank of the motor car outside and the trill of the telephone. Yes, Chekhov’s play may have been set in 1904, but Davies confronts squarely the play’s abiding theme that change is coming to Russia in double quick time.
Claudie Blakley (Varya), James Laurenson (Gaev), Charity Wakefield (Anya) and Kenneth Cranham (Fiers) in The Cherry Orchard at the Olivier, National Theatre, London Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Andrew Upton’s consciously modern, extremely lively ‘version’ of the original is also spattered with the odd “frigging”, “bollocks” and “bozo” here and “rank garbage” there - but despite all this, the overall effect on the production is (perhaps oddly enough) not to drag it away from its period, but to remind us that the passing of a way of life is also a pressingly modern concern. Deep feeling still has space to breath and the feel is quiet, elegiac and wistful when it needs to be. Neil Austin’s soft autumn light casts a gentle glow on Bunny Christie’s beautifully designed dacha set, its stripped floorboards speaking of a grandeur and sparkle that is long gone.
Zoe Wanamaker gives us a finely-judged Ranyevskaya. Deep voiced, muscular in tone, she faces her uncertain future with clear eyes and a certain amused panache. Conleth Hill is also excellent as the successful merchant Lopakhin. The one-time peasant boy who eventually takes control of the estate and the cherry orchard is in his hands a complex figure, his frailties making him feel real and even likable - vindictive in his moment of triumph, penitential the next. Mark Bonnar brings a softness as well as a sense of the comic absurdity to the prickly idealism of student Trofimov who yearns to escape and be free.
These are characters who seem to really know each other, with the audience glimpsing snippets of their colliding, changing lives in a production that is intelligent, unafraid and sometimes very funny - but no less moving for that.