Another trip to the National this time to see Howard Davies' production of The Cherry Orchard translated by Andrew Upton. In recent years this pairing has been responsible for some of the finest work to grace the Lyttelton stage. Philistines and The White Guard were moving, fascinating, lyrical shows, packed with superb performances and finely tuned nuance, so expectations were high for the move onto the Olivier stage for this, their latest, Russian outing.
The work is in the main beautiful and carefully constructed. Zoe Wanamaker gives us a cunning, knowing Ranyevskaya who almost succeeds in holding herself together. Her immaculate public mask only occasionally slipping to reveal he real understanding of the tragic predicament she and her family are in, whilst James Laurenson superbly captures the childishness of a man who has never had to grow up as her carefree brother Gayev. Most affecting is Conleth Hill's peasant made good, business man, Lopakhin. Painfully caught half way between opportunism and affection, if this version has a protagonist - and the brilliance of The Cherry Orchard is that at least three characters are able to stake that claim - then it is him who we follow most closely.
So enjoyable - yes. Sumptuous - yes. But there was something missing. Mark Bonnar's Trofimov, in some recent productions seen as a prophetic force, is, in his bedraggled state, and precious idealism, returned, as I suspect Chekhov intended, to the ranks of the ridiculous and as such the elegiac rigour of a play written on the precipice of Russia's revolution disappears to be replaced with a more gritty, realistic analysis of psychological foible. As if to enforce the point Bunny Christie's set turns the once opulent family home into a run down, under furnished, wooden shack, complete with bar saloon swing doors. In every way the skull is showing beneath the skin.
This is both a contemporary vision for the play and a denial of hindsight. I've always thought Chekhov's poetry lay in the tragi-comic creation of characters whose lives inevitably, given their circumstances, just fail to touch. Worlds where the weight of desire and sadness, rather than rational logic, dictate the action. This production eschews such a fatalistic conclusion, and leaves us grasping for another meaning.