Hasn’t Anton Chekov’s play “The Cherry Orchard” been treasure trove for those who commercialised it after his death, adapted and re-adapted it and commercialised it over and over again for more since its premiere on 17.01.1904 at Moscow Art Theatre? Would Chekov be happy if he saw use maybe even abuse  of his socialist play by capitalist art centre owners in the name of art?

These questions were dancing in the curls of Ranyevskaya while Zoe Wanamaker was performing her best in a black satin dress in the latest version of “The Cherry Orchard” at National Theatre, Olivier. Surely she wasn’t the first and was not going to be the last actress playing  the wealthy woman, whose moneyed world shatters when her ancestral house and the big cherry orchard are bought by her former peasant, as a result of her own irresponsible acts and of  Alexander II’s social reforms in the late 19thcentury in Russia.

Zoe Wanamaker plays Ranyevskaya in The Cherry Orchard at National Theatre,Olivier.

In the first scene at Olivier Theatre’s dimmed stage; Lopakhin (Conleth Hill), a merchant-a former peasant ,whose father was a serf in the estate, and Dunyasha (Emily Taaffe),a young maid, are waiting for Ranyevskaya(Zoe Wanamaker), who is a loser in love and life, to return to her ancestral house in Russia.She comes back home  with her 17 years old daughter Anya(Charity Wakefield) and their highly cultured manservant Yasha (Gerald Kyd) after spending five years in Paris with her ill lover whose disease left her in a great debt.

After their exciting arrival, Anya reveals that her mother sold the villa at Menton and spent all her money irresponsibly and they barely managed to get home.Young maid Dunyasha tells Anya about Yepikhonov ‘s (Pip Carter), the state manager,proposal to her while Anya can’t wait to spend some time in her room that she missed so much.However when Dunyasha finishes her story resentful Varya (Cludie Blakley),Ranyevskaya’s adapted daughter and housekeeper, starts telling her fruitless relationship with Lopakhin.She can’t get enough attention from Lopakhin, who spends most of his time on his work and doesn’t think love is as important as his job,while everyone in the house  expects them to marry soon.

Lopakhin tells Ranyevskaya that the estate will be sold at auction in August to pay the debt if they don’t come with a plan and explains his idea of cutting the cherry orchards and building holiday villas in the end of the first act. However Ranyevskaya ,who is obsessed with her state and the cherry orchard, doesn’t agree with him.

Chekov, who originally wrote the play as a comedy and got very upset when Constantin Stanislavski directed it as a drama, shows the funny sides of the characters in the second and third acts which are quite static. It is hard to say  Stanislavski was wrong but it is also hard not to laugh while watching first three acts which give dual nature to the play. However he doesn’t forget to tell us about his Marxist ideas with the words of long term student and Anya’s tutor-lover Petya Trofimov(Mark Bonnar).We also understand insignificance of money and property but holiness of love in Petya’s lines when he talks to Anya.

In the last act Ranyevskaya ,Anya,Gaev ,Trofimov ,Varya,Yasha(a man servant who had an affair with Dunyasha),Dunyasha leave the estate as Lopakhin buys it at the auction and becomes the owner of the house where his father was not allowed to go to  its kitchen as a serf. Ranyevskaya goes back to her ill lover in Paris with the money of her last inheritance house that is sold with Yasha; Gaev gets a job as a banker;Varya, who paifully waited for Lopakhin to propose her througout the play and didn’t get it,finds another house to work for in Russia;Anya and Trofimov leave to discover survival of their love.We don’t know where Dunyasha,who prefered Yasha to Yepikhodov but was rejected by Yasha after a few happy days,goes after her departer. However they forget the old Firs,who just came home from hospital after being ill for a while,and lock the door when they leave. He dies behind the locked door and the play ends.

They play forces to pay attention to every move and word of every character however it never tries to get sympathy of the audiences which is one of the best known features of Chekov’s plays.However Bunny Christie’s design and and Stephanie Arditti’s elegant costumes , Dominic Muldowney’s music and passionate acting of all the cast  mesmerisingly take every audience to the time when the play took place in Russia.

The Cherry Orchard first appeared at National Theatre in 1978 , directed by Peter Hall.The new production  is  directed by Howard Davies in a version of Andrew Upton for National Theatre  and will be on until 30th June when it will also  be broadcasted to the cinemas around the world.

The Cherry Orchard was staged 300 times while Chekov’s wife Olga Knipper was still alive and played Ranyevskaya on its premiere in 1904 and on 300th production in 1943 toured every country including Africa ,Middle East and India.Royal Sheakspeare Company and BBC TV released the film version of the play directed by Mitchell Elliot in 1962 and DVD by BBC Worldwide Ltd in 2009.


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