Photo: Johan Persson

Chekhov is one of the great playwrights and there have been a number of his plays revived and reimagined recently on London’s West End. Last year we caught the radical one-man Vanya starring Andrew Scott; the year before we reviewed a minimalist The Seagull, starring Emilia Clarke. Opening this week at The Donmar Warehouse is a bold, contemporary take on The Cherry Orchard – this is a radical new version by director Benedict Andrews. It’s not trying to be traditional: actors use their own accents; wear modern (and quite awful) dress; nothing here looks, feels or sounds naturalistic.

Performed in the round, with the house lights up, and with a sparse stage only really notable for a very thick carpet – although there are a selection of props and musical instruments brought on at various stages throughout the production – The Cherry Orchard feels like a very intimate show. Couple that with a spot of audience participation (those in the front row beware), the proximity of the actors lends proceedings an immediacy which makes for a captivating evening.

Those familiar with Chekhov’s work will be aware that it’s unlikely to be an easy watch – this is certainly not a Friday night feel-good kind of show. That’s not to say it isn’t funny, though – there’s a healthy dose of humour here, with some dark comedy to be found in the tragedy of the characters and the absurdity of their situation and decision-making.

Through the lens of one family’s story, we are effectively witnessing the decline of the aristocracy and the ascent of the bourgeoisie. Wealthy landowner Ranevskaya (Nina Hoss) is clueless when it comes to money – and love, life and pretty much everything else. She is unable to make up her mind on what to do about the family’s mounting debts, even when advised by Lopakhin (Adeel Akhtar) who is managing the estate financially and has a plan to save it. Paralysed by indecision she eventually allows the estate to go to auction and… well, it’s perhaps unsurprising that there’s no happily-ever-after ending.

The Cherry Orchard is quite a bleak and difficult play at times, and the themes and style won’t be for everyone – but this is an exciting take on the classic play which makes for compelling viewing. It’s playing at The Donmar Warehouse until 22nd June.

GAY TIMES gives The Cherry Orchard – 4/5

More information can be found here.