The Cherry Orchard
Melbourne Theatre Company
15 August 2013
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner
to 25 September
So that young hipster Simon Stone has gone and had his wicked way with another work of theatrical literary genius. Hooray! If you're reading all the hoo ha about Adaptors V Playwrights and the snooty comments about the laziness of adapting, stop wasting your reading time and get along to The Cherry Orchard.
The Cherry Orchard is awesome theatre. It's funny (if you didn't know that Chekhov is hilarious, you've been reading him wrong), it's about us, it's surprising, it's moving and it's almost too easy to sit though its four acts.
Stone hasn't re-translated the text, rather he's re-told the story and told it in a way that's as close to what Chekhov wrote in 1903 as it gets (or as close to my Penguin translation). Structurally it's as-written and the dynamic and rhythm Stone's re-worked language is glorious proof of how much Stone adores Chekhov. There are new bits that are very liberally translated, but it's more like he's making the subtext and subtlety clear: of course young Lopkhin kept Ranevskaya's blood and snot covered hanky, and surely it had to take a bit more than a hug to make Dunyasha break a saucer.
Orchard's the story of a wealthy family losing their land because they didn't want to cut down an orchard for the newly emancipated to holiday at, or, in this case, for the newly cashed-up bogans to build McVillas. It's set in the 1970s, but with a language and tone that's now, so the 70s are seen more as a time of societal change rather than a time-specific analogy – and are much easier to relate to than revolution-cuspy Russia. And the era lets designer Alice Babidge go wild with character-perfect costumes and furniture that everyone who lived through the 70s is regretting not keeping.
And it all takes place in a stark white box where the astro turf may be lush and inviting in its plastic, bindi-free falseness but it's impossible to hide. (Unless, you want to hide from people sitting on the end of rows; but, let's leave the "design and direct from the worst seat in the house" discussion for another time because this show's too good to waste time on quibbles.)
Pamela Rabe is Ranevskaya, the matriarch who knows she's not old enough to be so and who's lost so much that moving on in life isn't an option. If everything else in this show wasn't as beautiful as it is, it would still be worth seeing for Rabe's performance. But to notice her above the rest of the cast is unfair as there's not an out-of-tune or -tone note on the stage.
Stone's style is naturalism turned to 11. Chekhov's director was Stanislavski – the dude who gave us method acting – so there's no surprise in style, but this director turns up the intensity just enough to make us aware of how exquisite each performance is. Each actor brings the complexity and honesty of each character to the stage and lets us see their whole lives in a moment. It's so subtle, but this is the difference between laudable acting and being captivated by the characters and their stories.
I don't care if a work's an adaption or brand new; I want to care about the story I'm seeing, and know that being in the theatre is better than anything else I could be doing. This is the first time I've seen a Chekov on stage and wanted to re-read his work so I can re-see it with such a fresh eye. Isn't isn't that what adaption should do?
(As theatre is expensive to produce, tickets to see The Cherry Orchard cost more than going to a movie, but if price is an issue the MTC have discounts available.)
This was on AussieTheatre.com