The Cherry Orchard, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

It's been called the finest Chekhov production within living memory and Brian McMaster, the Festival director, is on record as saying that when he first encountered it, it struck him as the greatest theatre he had seen to date, bar none. Peter Stein's Cherry Orchard has, however, been in existence, on and off, since 1989 and in Edinburgh, where it tonight makes its final appearance, it comes over as monumental but disappointingly unmercurial - and Chekhov without impulsive spontaneity is like, well, Torville and Dean without skates.

The beauty of the staging is, I should imagine, undimmed. Towards the end of the first act, for example, the curtains of the Gayev nursery are pulled back and there, behind the huge window at a heart-stopping tilt to the interior, is a vision of unearthly loveliness - the cherry orchard in profuse white bloom under early-morning sunshine. Well might Jutta Lampe's Ranyevskaya imagine for a moment that she sees the ghost of her mother walking through this other-worldly landscape.

A magical blurring of the objective and the subjective, the spectacle brings home to you just why the Gayevs can't bear to part with their orchard and perhaps modifies your sense of their irritating fecklessness and inertia. The downside of making the orchard so visually prominent is that, if you happen to be sitting in the dress circle, you are treated to the sight of stage hands uprooting and carting off the trees in preparation for Act 2 - the orchard farcically suffering its fate just a tad ahead of schedule.

Throughout, the staging has a wonderful spare imaginative precision. The three double communicating doors through which we espy the cavorting revellers in the party scene allows for a thrilling moment when, with brutal insouciance, a line of high-spirited dancers burst through the downstage room where Ranyevskaya is grieving at the loss of the estate.

But, unlike a recent French-Romanian Three Sisters that ended with Natasha giving birth to the Soviet Army, this Cherry Orchard does not let hindsight inflict too much foresight on Chekhov's play. Having bought the very estate on which his forefathers were serfs, Daniel Friedrich's excellent Lopakhin staggers round in a very human daze of embarrassment and triumphalist elation. One moment, he's pulling his coat over his head like a child who wants to be "invisible", the next he's asserting ownership by crashing drunkenly into walls and cavalierly knocking down candelabras. Only at the very end does his exasperation with the Gayevs suddenly look drained of its former affection.

So what am I complaining about? Simply that too much of the production is willed and mechanical: well nigh all of the physical farce suffers from the deadly deliberateness of actors remembering to have accidents. The mixed moods are often leaden with calculation. Take those drunken hiccups that here puncture, with humour-free persistence, the poignant meditative silence that descends for what feels like for ever over the Gayev household as they sit on their luggage waiting to depart.

I note that Roland Schafer played the upstart Frenchified footman Yasha at the 1989 premiere. He's getting a bit long in the tooth to be playing a young man on the make now. To keep the age differential, the ancient retainer Firs would have to be presented pickled, Damien Hirst-style, in a cabinet. How I wish I'd seen this production in its first flush of youth. Final performance: 7pm tonight. Booking: 0131-473 2000

Paul Taylor


Die Walkure Act 3, Usher Hall

Brian McMaster, the Festival director, must be thanking his stars for an extraordinary run of good luck. Many of the events have been sell-outs, and there has been a run of warm, sunny weather, unusual for Scotland, with a perfect clear evening for the Fireworks Concert. Even apparent misfortunes have been turned to the Festival's advantage. First, the loss of the Royal Opera's production of Macbeth led to a concert performance that was, after all, one of this year's great occasions. Next, Bryn Terfel, one of the biggest stars in this year's pantheon, fell ill, putting Thursday's concert performance of Act 3 of Wagner's Die Walkure into doubt. Luckily John Tomlinson, Bayreuth's greatest Wotan of recent times, was secured to replace him. And this led to another revelation, a vision of the father- god that was towering, vivid, and essentially personal. It was one of those performances that ran into a massive wall of applause and cheering at its close.

It was not merely that Tomlinson was able to repeat his Bayreuth triumph. He gave us an essentially new Wotan, less the tender father moved to grief by a need to punish, than a desperate, panicked figure, almost paranoiac in his misery. Where Hans Hotter - and Tomlinson himself, once upon a time - melted into affectionate nostalgia ("Wunschmaid warst du mir," "You were my wish-maiden," he says to Brunnhilde), this new Wotan sang with savage irony, leading to the most brutal mockery as he consigned her to any man who might want her, spitting out the harsh consonants of the stabreim. Finally, his tender farewell to the lost daughter was tinged with wretchedness: someone freer than I shall have her, "freier als ich, der Gott", gasped breathlessly in a last hopeless surrender. It somehow captured all the sadness in the world.

Jane Eaglen ought to have been the perfect foil for this, for her Brunnhilde, seen in Glasgow and Chicago, was always human, soft, womanly; her purity of tone, pearly and sweet in soft passages, used to rise to an electric brilliance in the high register. But this was not Eaglen's best night. The seductive tenderness was still there, but low notes sounded oddly covered, and there was insufficient breadth for her last words of defiance, the orchestra clamouring to second her angry taunts. There was still plenty of woman in this interpretation, but not much valkyrie.

The other singers were astonishingly good: eight rousing valkyries, and a Sieglinde (Adrianne Pieczonka) who could have taken over the part of Brunnhilde at a moment's notice, and whose tone, indeed, somewhat resembled Eaglen's. The conductor, Antonio Pappano, is an exhilarating new kid on the Wagnerian block. He puts aside the traditional interest in expressive detail, leitmotiv, shape and contour, in favour of an impetuous excitement and a tonal splendour which suited the "Ride of the Valkyries" well. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra usually avoided being pulled off their feet. A night for fireworks, indeed.

Raymond Monelle

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

    £12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders