NT Live: The Cherry Orchard

“Who cares about Chekhov anyway? A bunch of old women moaning about ducks flying home to Moscow.”

 ~ Withnail [Richard E. Grant] in Withnail & I

I am always grateful to the Spectrum 8 for hosting the NT Live performances; I’m also grateful that enough people in the Capital region attend them to make it lucrative. Keep up the good work! I need the lifeline.

After sneaking off for a matinee of Harry Potter in the afternoon (bad girl! should have been working — yes, it was fun), I headed back to the theater for the evening’s broadcast. Strange to realise that this was in the Olivier Theatre: I was expecting the Lyttelton, where the production of The White Guard had been. Chekhov’s been getting a lot more attention lately, so perhaps this is to be expected. The sets by Bunny Christie were as evocative as those for The White Guard and there was a brief behind-the-scenes featurette where she spoke about the design.

There was a fabulous cast (of course) headed by Zoë Wannamaker as Ranyevskaya, Charity Wakefield and Claudie Blakely as her daughters — each coping with the dissolution of their familiar lives in different ways — Conleth Hill as the merchant Lopakhin, who probably makes the most changes within the course of the drama and Mark Bonnar as the nascent revolutionary, Trofimov (who’s name I cannot hear without thinking of Monty Python).

Everyone was terrific: Tim McMullan and Gerald Kyd provided a light touch of comic relief to break up the wistful sadness of Ranyevskaya and her family. The timing was perfect. The costuming, too, was exquisite —

— and yet I’m just not won over to Chekhov. Maybe I’m just a Philistine or part of that audience “weaned on cinematic jump-cuts who like their irony on a plate.” Or I just don’t like Chekhov. I have tried before and still I’m more fond of the Gumby version than any other. At least it’s brief. I can understand the impact of Chekhov’s realism — and landy, we’ve had a huge trend in that direction ever since — but while I can see how it would be wonderful to act in his plays, I don’t much enjoy watching them. I do like dark humour, but maybe just of a different kind (Finnish, not Russian). Or maybe I just need the right production. This one was superbly skillful, so I’m not sure what it would take.