Friday, 16 August 2013

The Cherrry Orchard, Aug 15, 2013 **1/2

By Anton Chekhov 
Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, 10 Aug to 25 Sept 2013   
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on 15 Aug
Stars: **1/2

Review also published in  Herald Sun online on Fri 16 Aug and later in print. KH
 Robert Menzies (Gayev), Pamela Rabe (Ranevskaya), David Paterson (Yasha), Gareth Davies (Yepikhodov), Steve Mouzakis (Lopakhin

Simon Stone’s 21st century version of The Cherry Orchard fails to equal the lyrical beauty and poignant observations of Russian country life that Anton Chekhov captured in his original, 1904 play.

In this reductive and rather pedestrian script by Stone, bratty socialites and greedy, upwardly mobile land developers replace the fading aristocracy and rising peasant class of pre-revolutionary Russia.

After six, decadent years in Paris, Lyubov Ranevskaya (Pamela Rabe) returns to her formerly affluent family’s estate, but is unwilling to accept that their cherry orchard must be sold for development in order to avoid bankruptcy.

The cast boasts some fine actors and Rabe is a commanding presence as the pivotal Ranevskaya, capturing the confusion and resistance to change of a proud woman who is a remnant of the former gentry.

Robert Menzies is sympathetic and poignant as her bumbling brother, Gayev, the verbose, needy man-child, while Ronald Falk is delightfully befuddled but wise as the old servant, Firs.

Chekhov always described his plays as comedies, and Gareth Davies is a goofy clown that captures the blundering clumsiness of Yepikhodov, the gloomy, lovelorn labourer.

Steve Mouzakis embodies the irritating demeanour of Lopakhin, the now-wealthy former peasant, but becomes abrasive.

Poignant moments, such as Rabe’s moving speech about her drowned son, and Menzies’ rambling musings, are not complemented by the rowdy, scattered quality of the production.

Stone’s play appropriates Chekhov’s themes, ideas and characters, dilutes them so that they lose their complex layers and charm, and supplants Chekhov’s irony and subtlety with silliness and noise.

Chekhov’s characters repeat the same stupid actions and continually get the same, unwanted results that, in Chekhov’s play, lead to comic-tragic outcomes and elicit sympathy but, in this version, they just seem idiotic and annoying.

Stone’s direction leaves actors standing awkwardly in cavernous spaces, or clinging to the walls as if they were spun in a centrifuge.

Time passes slowly in this world of the idle rich, but it feels like an eternity in the theatre.

This adaptation reduces Chekhov’s beautifully written masterpiece to an ordinary play with some good actors. Do I hear someone shouting, “The emperor is wearing no clothes!”

By Kate Herbert

Director Simon Stone
Set and Costume Designer Alice Babidge
Lighting Designer Niklas Pajanti
Composer and Sound Designer Stefan Gregory

Gareth Davies (Yepihodov), Ronald Falk (Firs), Robert Menzies (Gayev), Eloise Mignon (Anya), Steve Mouzakis (Lopakhin), Zahra Newman (Varya), Roger Oakley (Pischik), David Paterson (Yasha), Pamela Rabe (Andreyevna Ranevsky), Nikki Shiels (Dunyasha), Katherine Tonkin (Charlotta), Toby Truslove (Trofimov)

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