26 November 2014

The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic was gripping but missed the point

I do not like to miss Chekhov plays and as I managed to miss two Uncle Vanya's this year (one because it finished early and the other because I could not find the time to see it) I was pretty keen to see this acclaimed version of The Cherry Orchard at the Young Vic.

And I almost missed this one as well. I was very late booking and the only time I could find to see it was a Wednesday afternoon. I was very lucky as when I went online to book it there was a single seat in the second row (B28 for £35) so I grabbed that eagerly. Somebody up there obviously wanted me to go.

Being a mid-week matinee the audience was an odd mix of students and retired people with just a few people, like myself, somewhere in the middle. Being a matinee also meant no beers beforehand so I was able to time my travel to arrive about 15 minutes before the show started.

On entering the theatre I was surprised to see it laid out as a proscenium (traditional) theatre with all the seating to the front of the stage. I had been to the Young Vic several times before and while the layout was always different it usually had seating on three sides, i.e. a thrust stage.

There was nothing to see initially as a jet black blind hid the stage. There seemed little point in taking my usual "this is what I could see" picture as all I could see was black. I thought about taking a photo at other times but the staff were always sharp, a few people were caught trying to use their phones, and the black blind returned to hide the stage at the end too. I've settled for this picture found on the web as it more or less shows the view that I had. I guess that I was one row further back and about four seats to the left.

I had a comfy seat with a good view, which is just as well as the play was scheduled to run for two hours without a break. We actually got a break for a medical incident in the audience (I did say it was full of pensioners) but it was short and we stayed in our seats.

The Cherry Orchard had one broad theme, decline and renewal, that was played out through a sizeable cast who each faced the decline in their own way.

The range of characters used to tell the story was almost pantomimic with goodies, baddies and clowns. The main clown was Leonid, the matriarch's brother, who got carried away whenever he spoke, and knew it. He brought a smile to my face every time. Also clowning was the governess Charlotta, though I am not sure why she had to walk through the room naked after a swim.

The young servant Yasha was a very convincing baddie and, as so often happens in real life, he prospered. The matriarch, Madame Ranevskaya was the goodie and the main loser. Her goodness of heart was not matched by he financial acumen and she lost the family's money on a lavish lifestyle and imprudent loans.

A lot of attention was paid to portraying the individual characters and I felt that this was at the expense of the main theme. The production seemed to recognise this and it used mood music, such as used in film, to indicate the wood of the theme that was lost in the trees of the characters.

That said, the characters and their lives were absorbing and the two hours flew by. The thunderous reception at the end showed that this was a good Cherry Orchard, it was just not quite the Cherry Orchard that I wanted to see.

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