The Cherry Orchard
Theatre Royal Windsor
Reviewed – 14th October 2021
“The sheer magic of this production is the beguiling mix of melancholy and madness; of manners and mannerisms”
The original intention of Chekhov was for “The Cherry Orchard” to be a comedy; yet when it was first staged in 1904 at the Moscow Art Theatre, the writer/director Constantin Stanislavski turned it into a tragedy. If not distressed, Chekhov was very irritated by the misrepresentation of his work. Enough to put him in a mild state of depression. Ever since, there has been much discussion on the multi-layered nature of the play’s message.
Sean Mathias’ production at Theatre Royal, Windsor knows which side of the fence it lies and undoubtedly remains true to Chekhov’s intentions. With the help of a stellar cast the humour of the piece shines through and is maintained throughout the overly long two and a half hours running time. This is no mean feat, given that the characters themselves are generally not the comic type. Yet the wonderful ensemble cast bring out the flaws and the foolishness; the childishness in a seemingly mature group of people. It’s a kind of coming-of-age story for those who have already long come of age.
Fresh from the demands of his trail-blazing and age-defying Hamlet, Sir Ian McKellen is taking a step back, trying to blend into the background as the elderly servant Firs. There is a danger of his cameo becoming the lead but his generosity and sheer attention to the detail of how his character fits into the narrative lead to what is both a show-stealing performance, yet allowing his fellow actors to plunder as much as they can. Robert Daws is an absolute delight as the cash strapped moocher, overflowing with optimism and drunken charm and bouncing off Martin Shaw’s more successful but less confident Lopakhin. Shaw skilfully managed to mix a self-conscious awareness of Lopakhin’s peasant background with a cocksure sense of his own right to cut the privileged down to size (and ultimately cut down their beloved cherry orchard).
Francesca Annis, as Ranyevskaya the owner of the estate, swoops onto the stage majestically. No stranger to personal tragedy, she still seems clothed in waves of happiness. Yet Annis has the skill to show us the many tears and gashes that are covered up. The childlike way she greets her furniture as affectionately as her family is simultaneously ridiculous and tender. Her mix of tragedy and comedy is most (there’s only one way to put it) Chekhovian. But the minor characters also manage to have a major effect. Missy Malek and Kezrena James as the two sisters; and Alis Wyn Davies as the maid, Dunyasha, are names to look out for. Alison Halstead gives a fireball of a performance as the circus performer, trickster come governess, Charlotte. The only one who doesn’t quite seem to grasp the sense of fun that can be had with these characters is Jenny Seagrove, who plays the brother Gaev with a touch too much seriousness and lack of colour.
This is a piece that focuses on the characters and their interactions more than the story. After all, not an awful lot happens. In Act One, the cherry orchard is in danger of being sold, in Act Two it is on the verge of being sold, in Act Three it is sold, and in Act Four it has been sold. The sheer magic of this production is the beguiling mix of melancholy and madness; of manners and mannerisms and rambling lives that are just about keeping afloat. Much to relate to. There is tragedy everywhere, but we don’t always want to focus on that. This show, led by the inimitable McKellen et al, encompasses Chekhov’s spirit and lets us laugh at the seriousness of it all. Even if only for a couple of hours, but it is worth every minute.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Jack Merriman
The Cherry Orchard
Theatre Royal Windsor until 13th November
Other four star reviews this year:
Final casting is revealed today for Iris Theatre’s 10th anniversary immersive production of Macbeth, joining the previously announced David Hywel Baynes, who has returned from the US to star as Macbeth following his Best Actor Offie Award-nominated tour-de-force as King Richard in Richard III, also for Iris Theatre.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare, directed by Daniel Winder, will run Wednesday 21 June – Saturday 29 July.
David Hywel Baynes (Macbeth/Rebel Soldier). Previous theatre includes: Caliban in The Tempest (Ophelia Theatre Group); The Dauphin, Henry V (Globe); Bolt, Pericles (Savannah Music Festival); Richard, Richard III (Offie nomination for Best Actor), Queen of Hearts and March Hare, Alice in Wonderland, Brutus, Julius Caesar, Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Chief Weasel, The Wind in the Willows (Iris Theatre at St Paul’s Church). David is also founder and artistic director for the recently formed New York Shakespeare Company.
Stephan Boyce (Duncan & Seyton/Porter & Padock & Apparitions). Theatre includes: Romeo & Juliet (Reading Between The Lines Theatre Company, Salisbury Playhouse); Titus Andronicus (The Malachite Theatre Company); Thirst (Brightlights
Jenny Horsthuis (Malcolm & Lady Macduff & Second Witch) Theatre includes: Mr Kolpert, Olga, Othello, The Cherry Orchard, The Taming of The Shrew, Pressure Drop, Summer Brave,The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent, The Permanent Way (East 15).
Nick Howard-Brown (Banquo & Captain & Apparitions). Theatre includes: Much Ado About Nothing, Treasure Island, Twelfth Night, Pinocchio, Julius Caesar, Richard III, Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass (Iris); The Merchant of Venice (The Globe); Hamlet (Tivoli Theatre).
Linford Johnson (Ross/1st Witch). Theatre includes: Show Boat (New London); War Horse (UK, Ireland, South Africa tour); Hair (Hope Mill Theatre); Alice’s Adventures Underground (Waterloo Vaults).
Mogali Masuku (Lady Macbeth & Macduff’s Son & Captain’s Son & Fleance & Third Witch). This is Mogali’s professional debut.
Matt Stubbs (Macduff & Murderer & Harpier & Apparitions). Theatre includes: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Stafford Castle); Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth (Page2Stage Productions); Love In The Wood (Theatre Royal Haymarket).
Macbeth Creative Team: Director Daniel Winder. Set Designer Alice Channon. Costume Designer Anna Sances. Fight Director Roger Bartlett. Lighting Designer Benjamin Polya. Sound Designer and Composer Filipe Gomes. Movement Elissa Aravidou. Witches Choreographer Lina Johansson.
Artistic director Daniel Winder opens the 2017 season by directing Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a terrifying journey into the mind of a murderer. This production will weave its way around the grounds of St Paul’s Church; reflecting the play’s journey into the twisted mental landscape of Macbeth as he rises to be king.
Returning to Iris Theatre after three years, David Hywel Baynes takes on the title role, following his critically-acclaimed and Offie-nominated performance in the Iris production of Richard III. David said:
“Getting the chance to come back and work on my favourite play with the Iris family was a no-brainer. The environment surrounding Iris during the summer season is like no other. And it’s truly an honour to be back in London with them as they celebrate their 10th anniversary. May there be many more to come!”
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Iris is a dynamic theatre company based at the world-famous St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. The company, established in 2007 by Artistic Director Daniel Winder, has a reputation for producing vibrant and accessible site-specic and outdoor theatre, alongside a growing new musical theatre strand. Iris gained full charity status in 2009 with a mission to support the development of the next generation of professional theatre practitioners. This year Iris will also produce The Odyssey, directed by Phil Wilmott, for Gods and Monsters Theatre at The Scoop on the South Bank.
by William Shakespeare
21 June – 29 July
St Paul’s Church
London WC2E 9ED
7:30pm | matinees 2:30pm
Previews: 21– 27 June
£18 Full Price | £14 Concessions
2 hours + interval