BWW Review: THE CHERRY ORCHARD, Barbican Theatre
A long-established, if ossifying, social and political order is demolished by a wealthy, coarse property developer? Only
with in Russia...
More of that stuff later, but it's certainly good timing for The Moscow Pushkin Drama Theatre to bring their slightly surreal The Cherry Orchard to the heart of The City of London, which is not short of people willing to make hard nosed financial decisions over the heads of those with other priorities.
Director, Vladimir Mirzoev, catches the comedy (dark and, occasionally, broad) and the tragedy in Chekhov's celebrated drama of social convulsion, the almost bare set bringing the words to the fore. And those words are in Russian, the surtitles keeping us apprised of what's actually being said - though many Chekhovites will hardly need them.
Victoria Isakova gives us an almost distracted Ranevskaya (I half expected her to reappear with herbs singing a nonsense song), still resisting the sale of the family's famous orchard, but seemingly resigned to her destiny. She's rather better at somewhat inadvertently seducing younger men than making her case for her estate - indeed, there's more than a little of an A Little Night Music vibe in play, especially with the splendid onstage band. The physical presence of her dead son Grisha (at times doubled, like the girls in The Shining) adds to this sense of hopeless paralysis brought on by unresolved PTSD.
There's quite a lot of sexual undercurrent (and, sometimes, just current) in the Russian summer air, with Anastasia Mitrazhik a coquettish, Lolita-ish Dunyasha and Alexander Dmitriev delivering a fine comic turn as the preposterously pompous radical student, Trofimov, whose every word is undermined by his every action, definitely a man who these days would have at least two social media profiles.
But, more so than any previous version I've seen, this Cherry Orchard (appropriately I suppose) belongs to Lopakhin, the son of serfs made good, the man riding a wave of new money, the man with the vision to take his chance and the vulgarity to celebrate it in front of those who enslaved his forebears.
Alexander Petrov spends two hours vesting his character with charisma, a veneer of decency and a conscientious attitude - we admire him for his patience amongst the fools and popinjays. But that changes in the closing hour, in which we see him for the ruthless opportunist he is, hiding in plain sight as the smartest ones always do, but no less destructive for it. That he simply locks the old retainer Firs in the boarded up house is a foreshadowing of how he will treat the powerless in the future.
It's almost as if this Lopakhin might be a metaphor for the political journey from Mikhail Gorbachev to Vladimir Putin...
Photo Alex Yocu