By Anton Chekov, translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Sam Mendes
Company: Old Vic Bridge Project
Venue: Old Vic Theatre
Date: Wednesday 1st July 2009
As we arrived today, I remembered that the same line was shown on the screen at the back for The Winter’s Tale – “O, call back yesterday, bid time return” [Richard II, Act 3 Scene 2]. The platform was the same, again a nursery with a child’s bed, back right this time. The furniture was much smaller this time. Two oil/gas lamps hung from the ceiling. For the second act, the furniture was cleared and cushions were strewn around. After the interval, for the party scene there were two central round tables, one on each side as it were, and another table front right. They all had lots of bottles and other party debris on them. A cordon of simple chairs completed the setting. For the final leave-taking there were the usual piles of luggage and a few remaining nursery chairs, just to remind us where we were.
We were both a little disappointed with this production, after the glories of The Winter’s Tale. While the performances were all good, none seemed outstanding, and they just didn’t involve either of us emotionally. As a result, I found myself getting quite bored during some parts, although I must admit there were also a number of good laughs to be had. This version didn’t mention that Varya was adopted, as far as I could tell, so her situation didn’t come across so clearly, and her relationship with Lopakhin was confusing as well. I reckoned Lopakhin was simply in love with Ranevskaya and not really interested in Varya at all, but the final conversation between them, where he fails to propose, suggested otherwise. He got down on his knees, held Varya’s hand, and then came out with some banal remark about the weather. Very funny, but without tearing at the heartstrings as this scene can do. He also stood behind her and appeared to stroke her hair, indicating some strong emotional attachment to her, but for me it came out of the blue.
The final scene, with Firs all alone in a locked up house, started to be moving, but the symbolic music, with the chopping and the cracking sounds (they’re meant to be there) somehow spoiled it for me. Frankly, my dear, I didn’t give a damn, and I was finding the seat pretty uncomfortable by this time as well.
Selina Cadell as Charlotta did her magic tricks very well, and I was aware when Lopakhin was exulting at having bought the estate where his father and grandfather had been serfs, that some aspects of this play may have stronger resonances for an American audience than for us. The American accents weren’t a problem but they didn’t help either, unlike The Winter’s Tale. So not my favourite production, then, but a hopeful start for the Bridge Project. We’ll look forward to their next offerings.
© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me