Anton Chekov’s view of turn of the century Russian society

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre stage a new production. The show continues to April 7, 2018

Harry Mottram writes: Chekov pitches two sets of protagonists against each in an elaborate portrayal of the clash of the old and the new in Russia at the end of the 19th century. The old is dramatically represented by the chief protagonist Mrs Ranevsky while the new in this scene is championed by the second protagonist Lopakhin. Each side has more than one representative. Mrs Ranevsky and old Russia is supported by her brother fellow aristocrats  and her former serfs like ancient retainer Firs.

New Russia is personified in several characters – each representing the emerging new social classes. The leading figure is businessman Lopakhin who has befriended Mrs Ranevsky (achieving a kind of social somersault) despite having been born a peasant and climbed from serfdom to wealth by his own wits. Other representatives of the new social order are the idealistic student Peter who rejects the old order in favour of a new society that bears a resemblance to a form of socialism,  the lower middle class station master and post master who get an invite to the party, the desperate stranger (presumably one of the new unemployed former serfs and possibly destined to join the 1905 and 1917 Revolutions) who no longer respects the aristocrats and would slit their throats for a few coins.

There’s also a growing number of partly educated but under employed  servants who appear ambivalent to the survival of their employers – they have one eye on their future and don’t have the loyalty of Firs. Pasha, Charlotta, Dunyasha and Yepikodov are all waiting to see which way the estate will go.

Russia is in the news at the moment over the Salisbury poisonings – but here we see the country from the inside rather than the brutal nature of its Government then or now.

Bristol Old Vic and Royal Exchange Theatre’s production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD

The theatre writes: 

Chekhov’s final masterpiece is full of wild humour and piercing sadness in this fresh, funny and honest new translation by award-winning playwright Rory Mullarkey. A portrait of changing times, it maps the building tensions between the desperate longing to hold onto what is familiar and the restless lure of the new. A civilised and complacent culture is on the brink of collapse…

Michael Boyd, lauded former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, was a trainee director in Moscow at the start of his career, and only now directs his first Chekhov play. With a unique ‘in the round’ design created by Tom Piper (designer of the poppy installation at the Tower of London in 2014), the theatre will be transformed into a full circle of seating allowing audiences to experience every part of this rich and rewarding masterpiece up-close and from every angle.

Kirsty Bushell (King Lear, Chichester Festival Theatre; Antigone, Barbican) and Jude Owusu (A Tale of Two Cities, Regent’s Park; Julius Caesar, RSC) lead the ensemble in this vivid new production.

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