The Russian classic, which was last staged at the National in 2000, tells the story of Madame Ranyevskaya (Zoe Wanamaker), who returns from Paris to find that the family estate, including her beloved orchard, is about to be sold to pay off mounting debts. Revelling in past glories and extravagances, the family ignores all offers for help.
"While this production strenuously avoids sentimental cliche... it also misses something of the play's elusive poetry: it is highly intelligent and richly detailed ... There is nothing elgiac, either, about Davies's approach or Andrew Upton's new version: indeed there is something almost brutal about the language ... This reversal of expectation extends to Bunny Christie's set, which turns the cherished family home into a hugely dilapidated, run-down wooden structure: my only problem is that I never once believe... in the surpassing beauty of the orchard itself. What Davies does capture, in this hard-edged production, is the essential contradiction of Chekhov's characters. Zoe Wanamaker plays Ranyevskaya excellently as a woman who combines utter financial recklessness with a fierce emotional intelligence ... That element of internal conflict is also exuberantly present in Conleth Hill's Lopakhin... Davies' production... contains a number of well-defined performances: I was especially impressed by Mark Bonnar who lends Trofimov's radical vision of the future real urgency while also capturing the character's absurdity. Good work too from Pip Carter who plays the accident-prone Yepihodov as a tortured, lovesick soul, from Emily Taaffe who shows both the flightiness and heartbreak of the maid Dunyasha, and from Kenneth Cranham who pins down the sad senility of the neglected servant, Firs ... There is much to praise in this production. But it is so anxious to avoid sentimentality... that it underplays Chekhov's ambivalence about change and the march of progress."
"Chekhov described his final play as 'a comedy, in places even a farce' and claimed that its mood should appear 'cheerful and frivolous'. This isn't how it tends to be presented, but Howard Davies's finely balanced production brings out the often neglected humour ... As Ranyevskaya, the debt-ridden landowner... Zoe Wanamaker conveys passion and self-centredness with great sensitivity and an array of understated details ... Andrew Upton's new version of the play abounds with curious language. He is at his best when most restrained. Many will balk at his use of words such as 'frigging' and 'bozo', but there are moments of precisely measured poetry ... Conleth Hill is especially striking as Lopakhin, the harbinger of social mobility ... There's also exquisite work in smaller roles, with Pip Carter, Tim McMullan, Mark Bonnar and Sarah Woodward all superb...Davies makes its emotional conflicts and anxieties feel three-dimensional ... And if occasionally the production seems underpowered, its architecture is always clear. Bunny Christie's design is opulent...This is an unusual account of Chekhov's masterpiece, at times muscular and rambunctious yet still articulate about futility and sorrow. It could perhaps do with a keener sense of historical specificity and deeper notes of elegy ... But it reinforces the conviction that Davies is Britain's most consistently satisfying interpreter of Russian drama."
"They have tarted up Chekhov at the Royal National Theatre. This production has the Russian playwright’s characters saying words such as 'bollocks' and 'frigging' ... The words 'arIStocrat' and 'deTAILS' are pronounced thus, in the American fashion. Ugh. Why do we bother with a national theatre if it is so eager to hurl away Englishness? Despite these show-offy tics, Chekhov’s drama survives. The show is also blessed with an amazing set by Bunny Christie ... The house, beautifully created with long, high rooms and peeling grandeur, stands for much more than domestic familiarity ... But for anyone who has lost a family home to financial troubles, this play is an intense reminder of painful separation. The tears of Ranyevskaya’s daughters (Charity Wakefield and Claudie Blakley) are believable. If Miss Blakley could just hit her consonants more clearly, this would be a strong showing from her. The evening is nearly stolen by Conleth Hill who plays Lopakhin, a merchant who loves one of the daughters and is surely rich enough to buy the house. Mr Hill cements himself in place as one of London’s most fluent talents, though he needs to beware becoming a Roy Kinnear tribute act. Miss Wanamaker’s chatelaine is a pillar of imperious impracticality and Tim McMullan does a terrific turn as a local landowner down on his luck. If Mr Upton and director Howard Davies would just drop the childish, me-me slang, this would be a really fine show."
- Brenna Weingus
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