Writer: Anton Chekhov
Director: Sean Mathias
Adapted by: Martin Sherman
Chekhov himself described his play as ‘a comedy in four acts’, and yet since its original performance, the genre of The Cherry Orchard is often debated among theatre-makers and academics, many of whom seem to argue that it may, in fact, be tragedy. However, most contemporary productions seem set to achieve a compromise in a dramatic tragicomedy. Unfortunately, The Cherry Orchard at Windsor’s Theatre Royal builds itself on the foundation of an underdeveloped concept and tends to drift and meander
The performance opens on an overly-heightened conversation between Lopakhin and servant Dunyasha, the energy oscillating between theatrical drama and a Carry On film, and as a result, the expositional details get lost in the jarring exchange. This inconsistency continues through the introduction of each character to the point where the relationships and context become too complex to follow if the audience is not already familiar with the play. By Act III, the turbulence seems to have settled, and the play finally finds its emotional core, and it concludes on a more genuine ending compared to the unstable opening.
Under the direction of Sean Mathias this isn’t classic Chekhov, and nor is it an innovative reimagination. Parts of it resonate, but the majority doesn’t. It is clear that the primary focus of direction is characterisation, and there is merit to be found in the performances of all characters, with Pishchik (Robert Daws), Dunyasha (Alis Wyn Davies) and Yasha (Lee Knight) leading the comedic forefront.
Francesca Annis delivers an emotional and candid Ranyevskaya, playing the character for sentiment and feeling. Her personal turmoil is brought out in her interactions with Peter and Lopakhin. Although silent and still for the majority of the play, Ian McKellen’s fragile and doddering Firs easily steals the limelight whenever he makes an appearance. The comedy of the role is rhythmic, and while playing into the farcical elements of the piece, it remains witty and sincere. McKellen’s command of the stage is key and he delivers most of the evening’s humour.
Ben Allen presents a timeless interpretation of student Peter Trofimov, the ideological icon who communicates the intellectual allegory between the characters and their views. Allen provides an amusing yet meaningful variant on the stereotypical philosophy student, testing the duality between the critical and authentic perception of his world.
Luckily, the stylistic design of the production is something that brings the ambience of 19th century Russia to life within the story. The exquisite costume design of Loren Elstein illustrates the atmosphere of the aristocratic life, elevating the quality and character of each scene. But even the costumes can’t make up for the problems in dialogue and staging.
Runs until 13 November 2021