Now if anyone can convince me that Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard is more than an extended whinge about some trees then Zoe Wanamaker can. A bit flippant of me to describe it thus, I know, but that's my overriding memory since seeing it at the Old Vic three years ago despite my review being more favourable.
I get that the tragedy is that they engineer their own demise, that the family can save themselves from financial ruin if they just sell off their beloved Cherry Orchard but choose not to. And I'm learning to let that wash over me rather than irritate me intensely; that it is my problem, not the play's.
Key to unlocking The Cherry Orchard, for me, is to have the frustration of the family's inaction slowly turned to sympathy. And I'm not sure it did. There is, however, a 'but' (well actually there are two) and that is, I did quite enjoy the play.
What 'it' is, is that I think I understand a little more now about what Chekhov was trying to do and therefore have a greater appreciation. He wasn't just exposing the silliness of the landed classes at a time of change in Russia, he was also exposing the flawed idealism of those that represented that change.
Lopakhin (Conleth Hill), who's father was a surf to Ranyevskaya's family, has broken through the class barrier to become a wealthy merchant. But for all his business acumen and well-meaning affection for the family is ineffectual, devoid of emotional understanding and lacking the necessary delicacy to really do good.
While Petya (Mark Bonner), the eternal student, for all his idealism about social equality is all talk and little action, lacking a grip on reality that would enable him, like Lopakhin, to really do some good.
So in essence I found more to mull over this time and here's the second but, there are still problems. Or rather I still have a problem with the play.
Ranyevskaya herself, for all her hand-wringing about The Cherry Orchard, has just spent 10 years in Paris chasing men, leaving her adopted daughter Vanya alone to run the house. Her decision at the end to return to Paris, hardly shows a love for the motherland rather a desire to cut the ties further, this time leaving both her daughters.
And it is for that reason that I can't really feel sympathetic at the end. OK there was a twinge of sadness when Ranyevskaya and her brother Gaev (James Laurenson) cling to each other before they leave the house for the final time. But the real emotional tug for me was when Firs, the aged butler (Kenneth Cranham) stumbles into the shut up room, having been overlooked and left behind. Sort of summed it all up really.
As a production overall it is very well done, as you'd expect from the National when Katie Mitchell isn't involved (ouch did I really write that?). I didn't have a problem with the modernising of the script as some did.
My only acting quibbles fall on Charity Wakefield's Anya and Mark Bonnar's Petya. The former has a pitch of delivery that doesn't vary enough for me and can get a little irritating at times. And the latter, I agree with @polyg's diagnosis, is that his Petya just doesn't quite have the charisma to elevate the character above an earnest, self-righteous bore.
I think I'm going to give it four stars based on the production, the wonderful Wanamaker and how much I've thought about the play since.
There are two direct connections (one particularly special one) and a bulging sack of second degree connections, so here's a handful:
The first, first degree is Claudie Blakely who was in Bright Star. The second, special one, Poly spotted and is Kenneth Cranham who was also in the audience when we saw Cock at the Royal Court.
He also provides a second degree connection having been in Layer Cake. As does Pip Carter (Yepihodov) who was in Tiger Country which also featured Adam James who was in The Pride with Mr W.
And just one more, Colin Haigh (Ensemble) was in The History Boy's which starred the lovely Samuel Barnett who of course was also in Bright Star and His Dark Materials.
Right I'm going to stop there before this becomes, er, obsessive...
Production shots: Catherine Ashmore