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The Cherry Orchard review at Arcola Theatre – ‘stripped of its Russian soul’

Jack Klaff and Sian Thomas in The Cherry Orchard at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Workman
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Chekhov considered The Cherry Orchard, his final play, to be a comedy, even though Stanislavsky staged it as a tragedy. Certainly it’s no fun to watch unrelentingly mournful, mopey Chekhov. Whether it’s much more entertaining when treated as a bumbling, rather British comedy with tragic elements is a matter of taste.

The final production in the Arcola’s season commemorating the centenary of the beginning of the Russian Revolution, Mehmet Ergen’s self-consciously gauche modern staging nominally remains in Russia but feels like it’s set in Surrey.

In such a setting, the theme of the nouveau rich destroying areas of natural beauty to build up holiday cottages has the greatest resonance. However, it fails to feel like a play for today due to the way in which so much of the tension is in relation to the fact that this a society in which serfdom had only been abolished for a generation.

This isn’t a production filled with naturalism, particularly amongst the older men. Pernille Broch’s Anya feels the need to try to appear young instead of simply being. Abhin Galeya is recognisable as a more-talk-than-action revolutionary as perpetual undergraduate Trofimov, and Jade Williams makes an effectively resigned Varya.

There is more than a touch of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever in the petty frustrations of country life, and in Sian Thomas’s winsome performance that feels closer to actress Mme Arkadina than Mme Ranevsky. When the titular cherry orchard has been completely felled, they may well find a flock of dead seagulls among the dead wood.

 

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Verdict
Home Counties Chekhov adaptation stripped of its Russian soul
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