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Ivan Stott’s initially elegiac but increasingly woozy violin and piano score seems to soundtrack a world collapsing in on itself.While the varying tones provide as many strengths as weaknesses, there is much to applaud.The second is that the Australian writer Andrew Upton, who is responsible for this new – and very free – version of Chekhov’s last and in my view greatest play, should be taken out of the theatre and thrown into the Thames along with his script.I’m all in favour of a vivid modern translation, but it ought also to reflect the age in which the play is set.When Ranevskaya and her brother (played by John Glover) arrive at the estate with the rest of the family in act one, they have the canned jubilance of Capitol dwellers in the with an elaborate costume party.(The costumes, which seem to place the characters in different worlds from scene to scene, are by Michael Krass.Harold Perrineau (whom you may recognize from Baz Luhrmann’s ) gives a standout performance, and the strategic casting of several other actors of color, including Tony winner Chuck Cooper, does set some of the play’s themes in starker relief.But this is only one of many conceits operating in the hodge-podge production, which changes its look and mood with each act.
Lane’s character Ranevskaya is an actress herself who seems to perform her own emotions in a state of delusion, but when she is struck by real sorrow — over the impending loss of her home, or the memory of her son’s drowning — she’s too much of a caricature for the audience to feel for her.Even in 19th-century rural Russia, it seems, financial crashes bite hard.The unexplained noises off in Chekhov’s second act are the signal for a darker, more foreboding state to take hold.Howard Davies has directed a string of virtuosic productions of Russian plays at the National, from Gorky’s Philistines to Bulgakov’s The White Guard , and here he captures that distinctive Chekhovian mood of wild humour and piercing sadness to perfection.Meanwhile the cast is one of the finest ensembles I have ever seen at the National.
Despite the dire modernisms he is required to spout, Conleth Hill beautifully conveys the mixture of affection and exasperation with which Lopakhin regards the doomed aristocratic family, and there are wonderful comic turns in smaller roles from Sarah Woodward as a gruff, displaced governess-cum-magician and Tim Mc Mullan as a bonkers neighbour.