Mitchell and Stephens chop down Cherry Orchard
Katie Mitchell's production of Simon Stephens' trimmed down adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard opened last night
Well, it certainly doesn't hang about: Chekhov's cherry orchard has been scythed down below the two-hour mark by director Katie Mitchell and playwright Simon Stephens... in a livid, intemperate but eminently watchable cut-price version. The acting, as often with Katie Mitchell, falls short of the European example she adopts... Angus Wright's devoted, silly soul Gaev... squeezes in the wistful billiard ball vagaries with the air of a man who's never been near a green baize table in his life. In off the red? More like a miscue, potting the white... What is really good, however, is the sound and music of Gareth Fry and Paul Clark... The costumes are indeterminate modern era, and that's another problem... The prophetic power, and political metaphor of the play, is diminished by neutral updating.
... this Cherry Orchard... doesn't so much make you think about matters ecological as ring alarm bells that Mitchell's approach is starting to look stylistically repetitive... Mitchell takes relish in the scene-setting... The dialogue feels like loose change scattered as they sweep this way and that. The mood is enervated, preoccupied... as if no one wants to be there, or belongs; as if the anti-social have been thrown together... The naturalism becomes so studied as to risk looking artificial, the lack of ostentation tips into its opposite, something showy. There's a lot of bustle, little that moves you... Some fine performances are slightly lost in the midst of this... Gawn Grainger is touching as the stooped, doddery - finally abandoned - old retainer Firs. He's genuinely understated - more of that wouldn't go amiss.
Mitchell has actually styled The Cherry Orchard like a gothic horror... claustrophobically dim lighting and, frankly, terrifying sound design from Gareth Fry and Paul Clark... Mitchell and Stephens have refocussed Chekhov's play into a potent study in feminine - rather than societal - collapse... it's not an especially actorly production, but there are stand-out turns from Duchêne as brittle Lyubov and Natalie Klamar as estate stewart Varya... Stephens's adaptation is terse, blunt, and comes across an awful lot more like a Simon Stephens play than the hit version of A Doll's House he did here a couple of years ago... Mitchell's haunted country house is worth the admission.
... it offers an interesting take on the play for those who know it well, but I felt it would give newcomers little sense of Chekhov's ironic humour or symphonic realism... Stephens's version strikes me as judgmental in a way Chekhov rarely is... Despite the oddities in Stephens's version... Mitchell's production is concrete and exact... Kate Duchêne... is not a natural casting for Ranveskaya but she communicates clearly the idea of a woman tormented by maternal negligence... I felt I was watching a commentary on Chekhov rather than a great tragicomedy about a group of purblind egoists unaware their world is on the brink of profound upheaval.
Katie Mitchell restored to her old form... she has a really fine cast play Simon Stephens' reworked, swiftly abbreviated version of the text with detailed, intense concentration... There is no more moving sight in London than Gawn Grainger's hobbling Firs, trying to place a footstool underneath Raneskaya's feet and then being barely able to get up again himself... all the technical elements are beautifully managed and integrated. The old house is given gorgeous three-dimensional life by Vicki Mortimer's set... A production that burns with an intensity and clarity of emotions.