Review: The Cherry Orchard


by Mike Matthaiakis

After his extremely demanding portrayal of Hamlet, the almost 30-year-old prince of Denmark, Ian McKellen has taken a step back in Bill Kenwright’s production of one of the classic plays of the 20th century – The Cherry Orchard. 

Chekhov’s play tells the story of Ranyevskaya, an aristocratic Russian landowner (Francesca Annis) who returns to her family estate just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage, only to find Martin Shaw’s arrogant entrepreneur Lopakhin who is urging her to convert the estate to cottages, before the auction takes place in order to pay the debt. Martin Shaw is mesmerising as Lopakhin, the self-made rich man, the successful businessman who is also the son of a peasant of Ranyevskaya’s family and Francesca Annis is showing the character’s true colours through her incredible performance.

While mostly there are the same actors as in Hamlet, there are no age-blind roles in this cast. However, there is gender-blindness in Jenny Seagrove’s Gaev, the talkative brother of Ranyevskaya that wants to save the estate but doesn’t know how. Seagrove is simply impeccable as Gaev.

Pishchik, a poor landowner who tries to find his place in society, is portrayed brilliantly by Robert Daws. His facial expressions are marvelous and could be easily enjoyed by those with on-stage seats, a remarkable innovation that Sean Mathias’s production offers. Sean Mathias tries to capture the essence of the characters and he succeeds, quite boldly. The spirit of the play is to explore all the different characters in a mosaic of broken dreams, tragedies and modernity taking over an old world.

The Cherry Orchard has been an intriguing play. It has been Chekhov’s play with the least number of productions in London. Far fewer productions than Uncle Vanya, the Three Sisters, or the Seagull. Mort probably because it is not a pure drama nor a comedy. Its comedic element is quite subtle. It’s definitely there, but not as strong as in other plays. Mostly Dunyasha (Alis Wyn Davies), Yasha (Lee Knight) and Yepikhodov (Asif Khan) are responsible for this. Lee Knight has been amazing as Yasha, and Asif Khan is truly great as Yepikhodov. Also, Alison Halstead is fun as Carlotta, a circus entertainer that is now a governess. Ben Allen is spot on, as the eternal student Trofimov.

But, ultimately, the greatest element of this production is Ian McKellen. The finest classical actor, the living legend, plays Firs. He does not speak much, mumbles a lot, moves around the scenes leaving his silent mark, he is eccentric but extremely loyal to the family. When he is told that he has grown very old he ripostes: “That’s because I’ve lived a long time”. Ian McKellen steals the production and he alone, is worth your money.

The Cherry Orchard runs at Theatre Royal Windsor until 13 November.