The second of the Bridge Project’s offerings at the Old Vic, following The Winter’s Tale, is more consistent than the first. In The Cherry Orchard there is no swapping between countries and moods, no half of comedic release, only the drama of a family coming to terms with the changing times that no longer accommodate them.
Again Simon Russell Beale plays a man isolated from the rest of the cast, the merchant and son of a servant Lopakhin, whose love for the upper class family his father once served is met only with resentment of differing degrees. Russell Beale’s face always lights up a stage when he beams; when that wide grin is met with disdain from Chekhov’s collected characters it is painful to behold.
Chekhov’s piece famously portrays a family coping with Russia on the brink of change, the sound of something snapping in the distance haunting the production. Like The Winter’s Tale it features a woman destroyed, but here it is self-inflicted, Sinead Cusack’s Ranevskaya barely acknowledging her situation until it is far too late. During the masked ball which opens the second half – the last throes of fading opulence – it looks like Satan’s minions have been sent to drag her away from the life she loves so much.
Light relief comes from Selina Cadell’s magician governess, Dakin Matthews’s dozy Simeonov-Pishchik and occasionally from the theorising of Ethan Hawke’s eternal student Trofimov, though there is an anger in Hawke’s performance that lends him a sinister edge. The billiard obsession of Paul Jesson’s Gaev, which I have seen many times as comic exuberance, is here the tragic mumblings of a man hanging on to anything to stop the reality of the situation.
But reality, like time, cannot be denied, no matter what consequences it brings.