The Cherry Orchard, Festival Theatre, Chichester

2.00

An orchard that bears little fruit

Jonathan Church is doing a grand job as artistic director at Chichester. He manages to satisfy and to extend the tastes of the audience by bringing in unfamiliar, challenging work on the back of more traditional Chichester "packages", such as swankily cast safe classics. And his record with musicals (vibrant, high-definition revivals of neglected shows) is second to none.

So it's a depressing duty to report that Philip Franks' main-stage production of The Cherry Orchard is a major disappointment. It is stuffed with big names but it is an emotionally empty experience. It ushers you into the presence of Dame Diana Rigg (and by that fact alone will pack the place out), but whether it puts you in touch with the genius of Chekhov is a more debatable question.

Rigg's Mme Ranyevskaya is, in fact, one of this production's serious defects. As an actress, she excels at portraying formidability characters with a powerful firmness of purpose, such as Mother Courage, Medea, or the redoubtable Southern matriarch in Suddenly, Last Summer. She's great, too, at the scathing wit of ball-breakers such as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. This, though, is her first stab at Chekhov, and I'm afraid her performance suggests that mercurial distraction is not her forte, and that she should have tackled the role, if at all, around 15 years ago.

Her Ranyevskaya is far too uncomplicatedly sweet and gracious, pouring forth generosity of attention as profligately as she spills out roubles on rash tips. When she listens to others, her eyes are wide with wonder and eager concentration. But Chekhov's heroine is maddening as well as captivating liable to stray at any moment into absent-minded self-involvement, or to shift, in the instant, from grief-stricken emotion to blithely oblivious cruelty. Rigg comes across more as a straightforward victim of historical change than as a woman who, in her feckless refusal to focus on economic realities, colludes in the loss of her family seat.

And, where this production of the play sentimentalises Ranyevskaya, it patronises Lopakhin, the rising business man who buys the estate on which his forefathers had been serfs. Chekhov was insistent that, despite his peasant origins, this character should be a gentle, dignified, intelligent figure the kind of man whom Varya could plausibly love. Michael Sibbery, however, lumbers him with a regulation rough accent and a hyperactively boorish manner.

True, you get a strong impression of the drive that has carried him up the ladder, and of his furious exasperation at the owners' snooty rejection of his kindly advice. But there's a sensitivity in Lopakhin that has here gone missing. You should feel that his display of drunken triumphalism when he comes back from the auction is partly the result of his underlying delicacy and consequent embarrassment. You need to see that he aches with longing for Ranyevskaya, who was kind to him as a boy, and that her efforts to pair him off with Varya only serve to make this worse. These tensions are dismayingly underexplored.

There are a handful of creditable performances. As Charlotta, the governess, Maureen Lipman projects just the right degree of studied eccentricity and matter-of-fact loneliness; and William Gaunt exactly pinpoints the sly evasiveness and sentimental snobbery of Gayev. Beautifully fluctuating between comic absurdity and pathos, the most Chekhovian performance is that of the florid-faced John Nettleton as the landowner, Simeonov-Pishchik, who can fall asleep mid-sentence or wolf down Ranevskaya's pills as if it were the most natural behaviour in the world.

A sense of emptiness does prevail, however, exacerbated by Leslie Travers' bleak design. The cherry orchard is evoked by a single, arachnoid-looking branch on an overhead panel. The house already looks stripped to the bone. There's just one toy a rocking horse in the nursery. How can you evoke the paralysing nostalgia or the pain of their loss, if the family seems barely to have lived in the property from which they are evicted?

To 7 June (01243 781312)

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness