Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Cherry Orchard, National Theatre

Watching this The Cherry Orchard reminded me of Michael Haneke's tortured masterpiece The White Ribbon, in as much as there are a collection of self-assured but ultimately parochial individuals caught at the early surge of a tidal wave of social change. Of course Haneke's fairy tale is a blacker affair, accusing, cold. The attraction of The Cherry Orchard is that for all the chill wind of change - the Act 2 beggar incident is played with a sharp sense of confrontation - the author counter balances the revolution on the horizon with grand pathos, channeled through the eyes of individuals. It's closer to Lampedusa/Visconti's The Leopard in its warmth, the pathos contained within the (screen)play by the latter, inevitable fact of social progress, but pathos none the less powerful for that.

Howard Davies' meticulously designed production heightens the amplitude between the fun and the falls. The stymied love between Claudie Blakley's Varya and Conleth Hill's Lopakhin is undeniably poignant but I found it equivocal compared to the violent maltreatment of Emily Taaffe's housemaid Dunyasha by Gerald Kyd's foul Yasha (the sad marginalising of Yepihodov got underplayed as a result). Zoë Wanamaker and James Laurenson play the benighted brother and sister Ranyevskaya and her brother Gaev nicely, breathing an air of fun that has now thinned. On reflection the technical affectation that I found rather present in the first half is part of this, but Tim McMullan plays it better than the rest as Simyonov-Pischik. Above all I found the lighting design of the production quite excellent, as evocative of the comparatively subsequently dark age of communism in its strong, pale, seasonal palette. This is one extreme of the production I wouldn't change -others may benefit from a couple of weeks in the run to modulate their highs and lows.

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