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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Cherry Orchard
Donmar Theatre Summer 2024

Benedict Andrews’ entertaining, impressionistic adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard gives priority to jokes, audience involvement and a contemporary setting that is peppered with expletives. There is still the recognisable shape and meaning of the Chekhov original, though it's easy to be distracted by some of the production’s excesses. Some things said, along with the music and the actor's antics with the audience, occasionally overshadow the play's politics and make the characters a bit unrealistic.

The show opens with a cleaner vacuuming around Lopakhin who lies sleeping on the bold red carpet covering the performance space and the stage's back wall. He waits to welcome the return from a long absence of the landowner Ranevskaya and her party.

Although the home, along with the cherry orchard described as a listed heritage, is at risk of being auctioned off by the bank to pay family debt, Lopakhin (Adeel Akhtar), now a successful businessman, has an idea that could save them from that fate.

As the cast arrives to the stage they refer to audience members as objects from the house. On our side, a woman is described as a precious table. On the other side of the stage a man is led out by Ranevskaya’s brother Gaev to represent a bookcase which he says 'exemplifies the happiest form of human action and fostering… social justice.' It didn’t add anything to Chekhov but it got a laugh.

The same can be said of the way the characters talk about each other. Gaev in his Groucho Marx T-shirt calls someone 'a cunt' and Firs played as an older woman servant by June Watson refers to another character as 'nothing but a fuckwit.'

Eccentric humour tends to dominate the first half of the comedy until the garden sequence that includes speeches by the student Trofimov denouncing the existence of a system of 'inequality' geared to 'the 1%.'

His words are spoken so fast and with such little shading to a background of music that it is unlikely many watching would have caught their meaning or purpose.

The sudden sound of a cable snapping bothers everybody. Firs tells them she has experienced a similar event that preceded the 'freedom' though she adds that, 'I didn’t care for freedom much … I stood with the ruling class.'

A band is brought on stage at the later house party and audience members are encouraged to dance with the cast. They return to their seats as news circulates of the property having been sold. This is confirmed when an emotionally charged and possibly drunk Lopakhin, bloodied from an accident on the stairs, arrives to shout 'I fucking won. The cherry orchard is mine.'

Adeel Akhtar plays Lopakhin as a man shifting from frustrated admiration for Ranevskaya that is tinged with sexual attraction to someone ready to sweep the family and his own feelings aside in a ruthless determination to create his world of business.

However, among the fine cast, Nina Hoss as Ranevskaya particularly shines as a warm central focus for others.

Written on the eve of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Chekhov’s play reflects the growing friction between the rising demands of a new business class and those working in factories and fields across the country with the obstacle of a landowning class blocking their way.

Benedict Andrews’ production does try to highlight this, giving us dissolute complacent landowners incapable of recognising what must be done to save their old world alongside the restless furious haste of Adeel Akhtar’s Lopakhin and the angry idealism of Daniel Monks as the eternal student Trofimov, whose speeches are given a very current connection.

The show is always watchable, entertaining and thoughtful even if some of us may have found the comic detours unnecessary.

Keith McKenna

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Review of  The Cherry Orchard - Donmar Theatre 2024
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