23 May 2012

The Cherry Orchard at the Rose

Another gap in my cultural capital was plugged when I went to see Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Rose Theatre.

My only previous Chekhov I had seen was Uncle Vanya at the Arcola last year and that was certainly good enough to tempt me to see more of the same.

This time I was even organised well enough and early enough to get an aisle seat in the Row A.

There are some seats in the Pit in front of this (rows AA, BB, etc.) but the seat in front of me in AA was empty so I had a perfectly clear view of the reassuringly unfussy stage.

The scene is a old country house in Russia that is waiting for the return of the Lady of the house who has been having a bit of down-time in Paris that involved some sort of relationship that did not go too well.

We gradually meet the rest of the large cast that includes her brother, her children, some family friends and the staff of the house.

There is a lot going on. Relationships are being made and not made, money is borrowed, lent and given away, and hanging over all this is the scheduled auction of the house to clear the debts on it.

The main roles are played beautifully. Julia Hills stars and sparkles as the skatty Lady of the house who has trouble taking anything seriously.

The two main men, her brother and a former peasant who had worked for the family and then had made his fortune, were excellent too.

Together the three of them carried the play with their speech, mannerisms and expressions. It was wonderful to watch.

Less wonderful was the play itself which struggled to justify the five stars that the Guardian had given it. The characters were very entertaining and there was a lot of laughs along the way but we did not engage with them and when the story ends with the axes in the orchard (the non-stop moronic talkers next to me thought it was a clock) this was just another step in their complex lives rather than some sort of tragedy that it was probably meant to be.

The play ends not with a bang but with a whimper and that makes it a little bit of a disappointment, which is a shame because the journey to get there is a lot of fun and is skilfully delivered.

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