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The Present review at Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York – ‘Cate Blanchett shines’

Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in The Present on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh in The Present on Broadway. Photo: Joan Marcus

In this contemporary and sometimes anachronistic adaptation of Chekhov’s Platonov, a character describes Anna Petrovna as being “like a goddess”, who “could dominate the Romans … conquer the world. But beautiful as well. As beautiful as any ever painted.”

Since she is being played by the intoxicating, languid Cate Blanchett – and those lines are written about her by her real-life husband Andrew Upton in this version – it is not just highly charged but completely accurate. She is a flame of desire to which many moths are attracted, yet she cannot get it together with Mikhail Platonov despite a shared mutual passion, as he’s a sexual butterfly who is juggling the attentions of a string of otherwise attached women – and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

I was reminded of the Donmar Warehouse production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, currently playing a few blocks away on Broadway. But while that show stuck faithfully to its period, Upton’s updating here of Chekhov’s first play – never completed and untitled by him – creates incongruities. The stifling ennui of country life is more easily escaped now (and not just by nights in with a video, as one character offers here).

Blanchett is a living, winning wonder of the stage, and employing her native Australian accent, brings a compelling sense of a widow who, hosting her own 40th birthday party, can see her chances of happiness slipping away. In this transfer from Sydney Theatre Company she is surrounded by a cast of ace Australian actors, including the fine Richard Roxburgh as Platonov. John Crowley’s carefully calibrated production takes its time – it runs to a hefty three hours – but rewards the attention.

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Cate Blanchett shines in Andrew Upton’s Chekhov update