Axmg the cherry
Chekhov’s last play is usually seen as the sombre elegy for a dying era. Now the RSC have made it a barrel of laughs. Director Adrian Noble tells Neil Cooper about his cheery C herry Orchard.
Site-specific spectacle has long been an excuse for theatre directors to indulge themselves with allegedly ‘hold' and ‘innovative' deconstructions ofthe classics. Designed to bombard a young. well-heeled and trendier-than-thou audience out of its complacency. they‘re often ultimately hollow.
Mercifully reversing the trend is Adrian Noble. artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. who geared his spare. and — yes. you better believe it — funny production of Chekhov‘s The Cherry ()I't'lllll't/ to The Swan. the company‘s old-fashioned proscenium-arch space. From there. it progressed to a ten-week run in the West End; and then to a national tour. which takes in Edinburgh‘s traditional King's Theatre next week. I mean. how site-speciﬁc can you get‘.’ Indeed. it was this sensitivity to the type of venue that provided Noble‘s initial point of departure for the project.
‘It was terribly easy to direct.‘ admits a chirpy Noble. ‘We hardly used any set. and that released the actors' imagination. It allowed us to create the whole world of the estate out of nothing. We‘re used to taking this approach to Shakespeare. so why not with
.Ié‘ , I
Timber land (left to right): Robert tang, David Troughton and Penelope Wilton in The Cherry Orchard
funny.‘ It also made for one of the most popular home-grown productions of Chekhov for some time. This might come as a surprise to audiences used to a more reverential. po-faced approach to Chekhov’s end-of—the-century tale. in which an aristocratic landowner is forced to sell off her country house. leaving the self-made-man buyer to fell her treasured
‘I always regard Chekhov’s plays like a box of chocolates. They look very attractive, but you have to be careful not to make yourself sick.’
orchard. It‘s more than just chopping down a few trees. though. As with most late Chekhov, it portrays the full spectrum of a society in a state ofquiet but crucial ﬂux.
Even more surprised might be directors who‘ve inﬂicted such a dourly languid and tedious approach upon us. missing the point ofa play labelled ‘A Comedy‘ by its author. Okay. so Noble's take is hardly Carry On Losing Your Cherry. but there‘s
other.‘ says Noble. ‘As a result they end up at complete cross-purposes.‘ Noble accepts this gabble as a posh-frock forerunner to Absurdism, but also points to what went before Chekhov. something he gleaned whilst working on Ostrovsky's The Forest. ‘1 learnt from that where Chekhov came out of. and that there is deﬁnitely a grotesque side to him. DeSpite what people might think. it's not always naturalistic.‘ he maintains.
Currently rehearsing Shakespeare‘s C ymheline. Noble has rationed his diet of Chekhov over the years. This is his ﬁrst stab at Russia’s premiere playwright since a noted I990 production of Three Sisters — something of a family affair. which featured ‘old friends of mine‘ the Cusack sisters in the title roles. Yet the success of this production follows an example set by some of his predecessors at the RSC. Both Trevor Nunn and Terry Hands scored hits with Three Sisters and The Seagull respectively.
'I adore Chekhov.‘ Noble confesses. ‘but wall-to- wall Chekhov probably wouldn‘t be a good thing. I always regard his plays like a box of chocolates. in that they look very attractive. but you have to be
Chekhov'?‘ The end result. according to Noble. was that. ‘lt released the play in a way we never envisaged. and we found it was terribly terribly
certainly light reliefto be had. ‘Everybody in the play is so completely self- obsessed that hardly anybody ever listens to each
careful not to make yourselfsick.’ (Neil Cooper) The Cherry Orchard. Royal Sltttkéspeure Company. King's Theatre. Edinburgh. Tue I 8-Sat 22 Feb.
The column that throws the spotlight behind the scenes.
DAVID EDGAR’S Dr Jekyll And Mr llyde - which finished last week at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum - provoked a critical reaction as split as the central character’s personality. Even the playwright’s decision to have just one actor playing both parts was finally thwarted. Following a back injury, Laurie Ventry had to withdraw from the central role, leaving supporting actor Paul Blair to transtorm himself into an understudy. And who was ample enough to fill the breach left by Blair? Who else but the show’s director, big Kenny Ireland.
THE ESTIMADLE MB VENTRY is not alone in suffering debilitating injury
this fortnight. Edinburgh actor/director Alan Baig Wilson, who was to have appeared in True Belleek’s production of The llest at the Traverse (see page 59), has had to pull out after he broke his arm falling off the stage at Stirling’s Macﬂobert Arts Centre, where he was working with the Paragon Ensemble. While Wilson considers legal action against the venue, Ttue Delleek have cast Edinburgh-based Lancashire lad Mark McDonnell to replace him.
ILL-llEAlTll is NOT lllllTED TD SCOTLAND. Down south, there’s a theatrical flu epidemic that’s knocked Sir Cliff Richard off his wutherlng heights in Manchester, where three sell-out performances of lleathcﬂff at the Palace Theatre had to be cancelled (at a total cost of
almost 6000 seats worth £1 5—£28.50); while in the West End, opportunity is knocking on the dressing-room doors of countless understudles, as leading. actors sit at home shuffling into their hot lemon drinks.
ilAlE AID IlEAllTY meanwhile, is Paul Pinson, artistic director of Edinburgh’s Boilerhouse company, whose past successes include The Donn, Piper’s cave and the Irvine Welsh collaboration lleadstate. Plnson has been invited to ‘crash devise’ a large-scale, site-specific show in flew Zealand, which will form the centrepiece of the Wellington Fringe Festival. Among the venues that have been mooted is Air flew Zealand's training aircraft, a possibility Plnson can consider at leisure during the 25-hour flight.
Kenny Ireland: once more unto the breach
The List 7-20 Feb I997 57