We saw the National Theatre’s production of this in London recently. Not having read it, I can’t say just how much impact Andrew Upton’s had on it, but it felt both utterly of the period and yet ‘modern’, as if made for us. I say well done Upton if that’s his influence. It is easy to understand the impact this had on Russian audiences when it first appeared. The background noise of unease, as it permeated the world of the children of the sun, ie the wealthy intelligentsia obsessed with art and science and not a clue about what is happening around them – TO them, as it turned out in play and fact – felt as if it were spilling out from the stage to the anxious audience.
The play is highly entertaining whilst being didactic, as is typical of Gorky and the acting was splendid. Lucy Black was hilariously hysterical as Melaniya the would be lover of the scientist. Geoffrey Streatfield was perfect as Protasov, the scientist who doesn’t get that there is anything else. Maggie McCarthy’s rushing about as Nanny was spot on. But all the cast was terrific.
Perhaps the energy and enthusiasm of the play should have made me realise Upton is Australian. I understand that although his work on productions of Russian drama in the UK is highly regarded, he has caused offence here and there. Now and again. Charles Spencer in his review of Upton’s Cherry Orchard positively ranted about a production that was, in his opinion, wonderful despite the script – personally, I don’t think that is possible.
Spencer says of The Cherry Orchard
…the Australian writer Andrew Upton, who is responsible for this new – and very free – version of Chekhov’s last and in my view greatest play, should be taken out of the theatre and thrown into the Thames along with his script.
I say bring it on, Andrew. So hope I get to see the next one!