Review: The Cherry Orchard, Bridge Project at the Old Vic

The Bridge Project is a rather ambitious venture: an Anglo-American theatre company formed specially for three years and performing 2 plays a year in repertoire, touring across a number of venues over the world. With Sam Mendes as director, it has attracted a very strong group of actors, who have already formed a cracking ensemble, and I had my first experience with them this week in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic, the final stop in this first year of the Project.

The play has a new translation by Tom Stoppard, but given this is the first time I have seen it, I cannot really comment on its merits or otherwise, but the lovely lady sat next to me reassured me it was much more comic than than the last time she had seen it. It tells the story of the return of an aristocratic Russian lady, Ranevskaya, and her family to their hereditary estate since it is being sold off to pay for the mortgage. They are presented with different ways in which the estate could be saved and kept in the family, but the family do nothing and events overtake them as it emerges that their social status no longer affords them the protection that it used to.

I know there is a lot of Simon Russell Beale love going round at the moment and he is good as the upwardly mobile Lopakhin, but Sinéad Cusack as Ranevskaya is far and away the star of this show for me. The scene in Act III where she finds out the fate of the orchard whilst sat on her chair without saying a word, is simply awesome. She is dramatic without being melodramatic and maintains the aristocratic hauteur of this fading matriarch right through to the bitter end.

Rebecca Hall is also excellent as the ‘plain’ adopted daughter Varya, she has amazing stage presence and a great stillness about her which makes me very excited to see more of her work, and Richard Easton is very funny as the manservant Firs. Ethan Hawke and Josh Hamilton also gave good performances, indeed the entire company seem very comfortable in the roles and with each other, and it makes me extremely keen to see further productions which can also display the strengths of this group of actors.

An interesting choice has been to leave the actors using their native accents, so there is a real mixture of English and American voices on show, but after five minutes, I didn’t even notice this difference, such is the force of the acting, it’s really not an issue.

It is a very atmospheric production, with some great lighting and I adored the opening to the second half. But I have to say that despite the first-rate acting, I am not a fan of the actual play: the fate of the Russian aristocracy just doesn’t interest me that much, and I felt that Burnt By The Sun at the NT dealt with it in a more engaging manner (by aligning it to a more interesting sub-plot as well). That said, this was a great opportunity to see a tightly-knit company working together so well, and I look forward to seeing the rest of the plays under the Bridge Project banner, starting with A Winter’s Tale in a couple of weeks.

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