The Cherry Orchard | Theatre review

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

The story of Margaret Thatcher's premiership is usually told in terms of a right-left struggle between establishment and workers. But as John Byrne sees it in this invigorating and very funny retelling of the Chekhov classic, it was also a conflict between old money and the self-made man.

The Lopakhin who triumphs over this family estate in north-east Scotland at the end of the winter of discontent is, like Thatcher, the child of a grocer. Renamed Malcolm McCracken – and played with outsider toughness by Andy Clark – he represents the first stirrings of the loadsamoney generation: cash-rich and empathy-poor. His vision for turning the land over to holiday homes ("City living in the heart of the Highlands") is preferable to a rival scheme for a leisure centre and golf complex, but it is insensitive to the priceless beauty of the cherry orchard.

Not that the old guard are any better. They are an anachronistic bunch even for 1979, all tweedy superiority with a gift for blanking out anything they don't want to hear. We feel no nostalgia for their decadent spending on boozy lunches and helicopter rides around the Eiffel Tower. Only Maureen Beattie as an elegant Madame Ranevskaya – renamed Mrs Ramsay-Mackay – shows a level of sensitivity beneath the fecklessness.

What is remarkable about the switch from pre-revolution Russia to pre-devolution Scotland is how snugly it fits. Unlike similar transpositions, Tony Cownie's production – weak on thwarted romance, strong on comic timing – works on its own terms and allows you to forget the context of the original. Faithful to the line if not the letter of Chekhov, Byrne's adaptation trades serfs and samovars for Bagpuss and chicken chow mein, giving the play an immediacy that makes sense of its dramatic conflict while reflecting on the political movements of our own times.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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