The Cherry Orchard/ The Winter's Tale, Old Vic, London
Thursday 11 June 2009
It's a mixed package, but the arrival in London of the latest Sam Mendes project, co-produced with Kevin Spacey's Old Vic and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, is a significant event. It mixes British and American actors with Simon Russell Beale and the star of the show, an Irish actor of proper vintage, Sinéad Cusack.
The tonality of these British and American actors is always interesting, but never satisfactory. It creates an audible confusion similar to hearing the same piano sonata on modern and baroque instruments. Mendes tries to bind them in a governing style, but it doesn't work. The Shakespeare's too boring, the Chekhov too bland.
Both of these plays are about the eternal verities of love, loss and regret, and in a time of upheaval and trivial public discourse, they make the everyday nonsense of our lives seem pathetic. The Cherry Orchard is probably the greatest play (alongside The Crucible) of the 20th century, and Russell Beale plays the avenging serf who buys the family estate to create holiday homes.
He's a great actor, but he's not coarse-grained enough for this role. He sports 20th-century lapels and pockets on his grey suit but he doesn't have the killer class-enemy quality to push his case home. As Leontes in The Winter's Tale, however, he finds so many notes of subtle regret, even when he's behaving badly, that you end up thinking he gets a raw deal when the tide turns. "I have drunk and seen the spider," he says, and you don't really believe him.
That said, we should salute actors like Paul Jesson and Dakin Matthews who make essentially boring roles in both plays repositories of some kind of admirable activity. Cusack, too, as Ranevskaya and Paulina, is superb. But I'm afraid the vaunted Canadian Richard Easton did not appeal to me as a badly wigged old shepherd and a badly wigged old Russian retainer.
The Old Vic has been restored to its old self, after the in-the-round configurations for the Alan Ayckbourn trilogy. But these are not the great productions we might have hoped for from the Sam Mendes stable; they're perfectly good, but there is a far higher standard operating at the RSC and the Globe at the moment – and that, I'm afraid, is not to say all that much.
To 15 Aug (0870 060 6628; www.oldvic theatre.com)
Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandalbooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scientists create transparent mouse complete with see-through organs
- 2 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 3 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 Amazonian Indian tribe filmed making contact with Brazil village in rare video footage
Game of Thrones actress Aimee Richardson begs for 'other princess work' after Myrcella Baratheon part is recast
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming in August 2014
Cultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
The Walking Dead season 5 will see deaths of 'favourite characters', suggests Andrew Lincoln
Edinburgh Festival 2014: Israeli show The City pulled after pro-Palestinian protests
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
- < Previous
- Next >