7 April 2018

The Cherry Orchard at Union Theatre was sharp and satisfying

I am doing a pretty good job at seeing (almost) every Chekhov production in London even if it takes a bit of juggling to do so. To see The Cherry Orchard at Union Theatre I had to go into London on the weekend, a Saturday, and that was to catch the final performance.

I still think that Union Theatre undercharges a little and a ticket price of £22.50 meant a very full house. I was sitting in the front row, as always, so could not tell if it was completely full but it looked pretty close.

I had made something of a day of it in London going to Barbican Theatre for a matinee before walking down to Union Theatre in Southwark, taking in a visit to a Paul cafe and PokemonGo Raid along the way. The Millennium Bridge was ridiculously busy and needs widening.

I got to Union Theatre around 6pm and comforted myself with a pint of Kozel while waiting for the Box Office to open at 6:30pm. Once I had claimed my Batch 1 token I went to Culture Grub for my usual Szechuan style vegetable curry, returning to the theatre in good time to be at the front of the queue, i.e. to be number one not just one of the first ten.

The staging surprised me a little because in the first two shows in this series of three there had been stairs up on either side of the stage but this time is was set conventionally. And neatly. It just oozed faded Russian country house.

I had seen Cherry Orchard a few times, and as recently as the year before, and while I would not claim to be anything like word-perfect I did quickly spot a significant difference. Admittedly if I had looked at the poster I might have been less surprised.

This Cherry Orchard, written in 1903, was moved forward a few years to 1917 and the Russian Revolution. This added to the existing theme in the play where the landed gentry were losing out to the new merchant class. The Revolution took this redistribution of land a stage further. I think it worked well; The Cherry Orchard is partially a political play and to ignore the Revolution (which Chekhov obviously did not know was coming) left this thread effectively unfinished.

The rest of The Cherry Orchard is about the large cast of characters, their reactions (or lack of them) to the political situation and to each other and this Cherry Orchard covered this supremely. I got very frustrated with the people refusing to recognise what was about to happen to them, happy for the people who were unbowed by the changes and tearful for the couple who never quite came together. The non-proposal scene was the most poignant in the play.

Judging by the running time, something just under two hours with an interval, quite a bit had been cut here and there (much to the confusion of the man next to me trying to follow the script in Chinese) but Chekhov can be wordy and cutting a theme or two makes little difference to the totality of the play.

The ending was familiar enough though the thing that happens happened to another person. That change worked well too.

This was a very delightful and enjoyable version of The Cherry Orchard made sharper by its slight but significant shift in time.

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