Sunday, September 13, 2009

"The Cherry Orchard" - September 2009

It can be a real struggle to crystallise our thoughts when we haven't enjoyed a piece, and 24 hours later I'm still unsure if the problem was Chekov's play itself, Stuart Paterson's adaptation or Dundee Rep's production of it. In truth probably 'D - all of the above'. What I do know is that it completely failed to engage or connect with us on any level, and left us entirely disinterested. Not to mention desperately wishing they would ditch the 'noises off' of small hatchets impacting on tree trunks and instead fire up the chain saws and get it over with.

You would think a play about a family in financial strife on the verge of losing their house would have a resonance in the current climate, but somehow it all feels far removed from any modern relevance. It's a thoroughly traditional staging, not just in terms of costumes but in terms of direction. It has a dreadfully old fashioned by-the-numbers feel to it. Like watching a TV period drama from the 60s or 70s - all very slow and static. If the intention was to evoke a feeling of inertia it's brilliantly effective - but it makes for an interminable experience for the audience.

I get the feeling that the tragedy/comedy of the play should come from the fact that the characters desperately want to save the cherry orchard but are too proud and set in their ways to take the necessary steps to do so. But here we never really get the feeling that it actually matters greatly to anyone. It's certainly an inconvenience that they would rather not have to face, but at the end of the day, shrug, they move on without any real sense of loss.

I'm reluctant to comment on the performances of the actors as it's too difficult to isolate them from the decisions presumably made by director Vladimir Bouchler.

The Saturday matinee audience may not be typical, and there were clearly some who were enjoying it, but as a whole I don't think there was a great deal of enthusiasm in the auditorium (and we suspect a few escaped at the interval). We don't regret making the trip to Dundee as we learned two valuable lessons - (1) We can add Chekov to our list of well regarded playwrights whose work we will think twice before booking up for. (2) Dundee Rep's restaurant is well worth a visit.

The Cherry Orchard runs at Dundee Rep until 19 September.