The Cherry Orchard & The Winter’s Tale

Ok, let me explain why these two are grouped together.

The Bridge Project 2009The Old Vic is hosting the UK leg of the Bridge Project an idea developed by Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendes. It’s an unprecedented three-year, transatlantic partnership uniting The Old Vic with Brooklyn Academy of Music and Neal Street Productions. Each year a mixeds a US/UK cast and puts on two plays, one Shakespeare and one Chekhov. This year its the Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale. Sam Mendes directs, he’s got previous experience in this area.

Ok, which first? Let’s get the Chekhov out of the way. Yes it’s worthy and its deep and ponderous. The cast act their socks off but they can’t get past the darkness of the author. Tom Stoppard’s version tries its best, but even with Simon Russell Beale, Rebecca Hall, Sinead Cussak and Ethan Hawke doing their utmost its hard work. They are brilliant at what they do, it’s almost as if they know it’s a tough watch and try that little bit extra.

I like a bit of resolution in my plays, some sort of redemptive moment or conclusion, I got the feeling that I didn’t get a reward from the time invested from the play but I did from the performances. I cared about the characters, I wanted good and just resolutions for them but was left disappointed.

Yes I should know better with Chekhov. Costumes perfect, set excellent, narrative hmmmm. There’s a reason beyond the plot as to why its called the Cherry Orchard and not the Cheery Orchard.

Same cast, different Bard. The Winter’s Tale.

Now this has always been one of those oddities in Shakespeare’s canon. I’ll forgo the discussion as to whether he wrote it or not. It was published towards the end of his life and is a bit mental to be honest. It’s got revenge, familial strife, war, death, magic, jealousy, dishonour, redemption and the most famous stage direction in the history of theatre. Basically everything you want from a Shakespeare, well apart from incest, king killing and cross dressing but I think you’ll find that’s pretty well catered for elsewhere.

Same cast as before. Same people really shone, they didn’t always get as much stage time as each other obviously but thats the confidence of a company of this much talent. Rebecca Hall is statuesque and regal, wronged and redeemed. Simon Russell Beale is magnificent, you don’t see him much on TV as he’s too busy doing phenomenal theatre. I saw him opposite Zöe Wanamaker in Much Ado About Nothing and he’s on Radio 4 in the Complete Smiley (LeCarré) at the moment too. Ethan Hawke played the perfect rogue, a casual charlatan. Sinead Cussack doesn’t get as much chance here as her stormer in the Cherry Orchard but solid throughout. I want to give a mention to Charlotte Parry and Jessica Pollert Smith who fit right in.

The Bridge Project will be back next year with two more plays and probably a close to identical cast. You could do considerably worse than spend a night in its company.

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