Birmingham Stage Company

The Cherry Orchard

27 May 2011

I saw 'The Cherry Orchard' last night at The National and had a good night of theatre: it's a clear, intelligent, beautifully designed production, but I have a serious question. And bearing in mind that Howard Davies is one of my favourite directors, I write this blog with trepidation. Despite an excellent cast of actors, with Zoe Wanamaker and James Laurenson getting the aristocratic mixture of arrogance, insouciance and incompetance spot on, I had a strong feeling that all the peasant roles were miscast. It's always difficult to write this when you have watched and enjoyed such excellent actors at work, but as Lopakhin, Yasha and Dunyasha delivered their performances, I sat there scratching my head over the absence of the working class. So many of the lines made no sense at all: Lopakhin talks endlessly of his peasant background but wouldn't look out of the place on the front bench of the Tory party. Dunyasha, whose yearning for sophistication should evoke pity and pain, could have come straight out of Brideshead. All of these characters are certainly trying to elevate themselves into 'society' but surely the whole point of the play is to chart the rise of the peasant and the fall of the governing class. Instead, to my bemusement there didn't appear to be anyone on the stage who could properly represent the proletariat. Which may have led to my disappointment at the lack of danger in the production. Chekhov seems to have been writing about a huge crack that was appearing in Russian society - trees would be felled, people would die - but that tension and danger was absent. Which didn't stop me enjoying the show - but left me wanting more.

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