Vladimir Mirzoev’s visually striking, psychologically nuanced staging of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, one of three productions being staged in London by Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre, is beautifully skewed, melancholic and haunting.
Russian film star Viktoriya Isakova takes the role of Ranevskaya, her estate in jeopardy and family facing ruin. There’s a radiant sadness about her. She’s a quiet, gliding presence, a woman carrying around invisible weights, resigned to her fate.
She stands apart from the others on stage, emotionally remote yet transfixing. Alexander Petrov, also a Russian screen star, makes a dynamic and similarly youthful Lopakhin, arrogant and charismatic.
Mirzoev’s production, performed in Russian with English surtitles, contains some incredibly potent moments. In lieu of cherry trees, little bags of blood descend from above. The cast attach themselves to these as if engaged in a process of transfusion. There’s a lively onstage band and the party scene sees the characters cutting loose in swimwear.
There are bursts of sexual energy and incredible menace, particularly when vagrants disrupt their honeyed world, foreshadowing upheaval to come. Eccentric Charlotta stalks the stage like a malevolent clown-magician, performing card tricks and conjuring up images of Ranevskaya’s dead son. At one point she takes a rope noose and places it around Ranevskaya’s neck. It remains there for the rest of the production, as darkness envelops the characters.
Alexander Lisyansky’s steeply raked set consists of a collage of wooden doors and windows that occasionally pop open. The stage is dominated by an enormous cross made of thick, wooden beams. It’s a suitably ominous image, looming over the languorous characters, casting a long shadow.