When a production’s most memorable aspect is the costuming, you know you have a weak show on your hands. Whoever chose the clothes for this modern-day Cherry Orchard has a better handle on the characters than the actors themselves, who give some painfully stilted performances which cry out for firmer direction.
The decision to reimagine Chekhov’s play in 1980s Britain is not without promise. Themes of a crumbling class structure, the importance of property and resentment between old and new money play well in the land of yuppies, housing booms and exhausted country estates. If Downton Abbey makes it to Season Sixteen, it might take a few cues from this production. The Richman dynasty (yes, it’s that kind of play) must finally confront their bankruptcy. Their only option: a final gathering to plan the auction of the family home and its eponymous orchard. As the Richmans’ aristocratic star wanes, that of Alfie Freeman, the labourer’s son done good, is on the rise.
The stage should be set for a fable of changing times, regret and bitterness. Instead we get an utterly bland creation which pokes gingerly at the surface of Chekhov’s text. Not only is it superficial - it’s actually boring. The characters are not invested with enough substance to hold our attention. There are moments of competence, notably by Henry Yorke as impotent, pink-trousered Uncle Leonard, but the cast members trade lines without acting off each other. More egregious still is their utter inability to convey emotional depth. As vapid upper-class twits, they are pitch-perfect. Daisy Cummins as the glassy matriarch Louisa is particularly well-judged until she is called upon to wring actual poignancy from her lines, at which point she switches off entirely. It all ends up feeling more like a drawing-room farce than a searching literary classic.
“So did they sell the house in the end?” asked the gentleman behind me as we were filing out. I wish they could have sold it sooner.