Monday, 26 May 2008

The Cherry Orchard - Chichester Festival Theatre

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Checkov

Chichester Festival Theatre 15th May – 7th June

Directed by Philip Franks

Reviewed by John Garfield-Roberts

The Festival Theatre has in the past few years undergone an amazing change of fortune under the Artistic oversight of Jonathan Church, but one has the slight feeling that the past few years his programming of plays has tended to be geared more to the Sussex blue rinse than perhaps the future theatre going public which as an overall industry needs to get its act together and start reaching out to this new demographic in order to still be running in twenty years time, so it was no real surprise that once again Church’s choice of productions sit on the safe side of the fence and bringing in Old Hat names from theatre and TV to carry the shows.

As a twenty something male, I was excited to see the line up of names that Church and Franks had pulled together, this is a cast on paper that you would only see on stage at the National not on the provincial stage at Chichester: Diana Rigg, Maureen Lipman, William Gaunt, Jemma Redgrave, William Gaunt, Frank Finlay – any theatre would be proud to get a line up like this confirmed, and with a line up needs a production that will showcase their talents to the full…what a shame that this excellent new adaptation by Mike Poulton just didn’t ignite the touch paper.

This new production by Philip Franks is cold, flavourless and quite tepid, and remarkably a production that I will try to forget and not let it hamper my own personal liking for the text.

There were some very odd decisions made for this production, why have a set that is so bleak, grey, and so stark of any furniture, this made it hard to believe that anyone lives here at all. I would also like to understand the artistic reasoning behind everyone having an English accent bar the cringe reducing performance by Maureen Lipman.

It is hoped that with any production especially when you have the cast you have here, that you are able to come together and become a great ensemble all pulling the same rope, but unfortunately that just doesn’t seem to be the case here. I was disheartened that so many seasoned professionals dropped lines, mumbled themselves through scenes and even at many points from the seat I was in complete inaudibility (Rigg, Gaunt, Finlay) that it is just downright inexcusable and the least said about Natalie Cassidy’s performance the better!

For me the saving grace of this production was Charlotte Riley’s portrayal of Anya, playing her with a grace and aristocratic naivety that you just can’t help but be drawn in to her when she is on stage performing, other notable performances came from Michael Siberry’s Lopakhin and Simon Scardifield’s – Petya both giving much need energy and exuberance that was needed to carry this production through to its long anticipated and needed curtain

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