H having recently played Hamlet At about twice his usual age, Ian McKellen returns to the Theater Royal Windsor in a role for which he is, strictly, too young. Firs, the servant in Anton Chekhov 's The Cherry Orchard, is 87 years old. McKellen, five years younger, ages with a shaved head and a stiff white loofah beard .
While the Hamlet production was purposely age and gender blind, director Sean Mathias casts the same company largely through generation and by pronouns: Francesca Annis as Ranevskaya, the doubly bereaved aristocratic matriarch, returning to her Russian domain after a five-year Paris exile, to find Lopakhin, Martin Shaw's arrogant entrepreneur, spying on real estate development if the fruit trees are cut down. The only interpretive reversal is Jenny Seagrove, who, with cut hair, scratched voice andmustache, strikingly plays a middle-aged man, Gaev, albeit with an undercurrent of gender complexity that resonates.
Like the whole show. Early 20th-century characters darkened by debt, depression, deforestation, and death don't need a lot of modern repairs, but the Martin Sherman adaptation gives it a little boost. story. The generations of servants who worked on the estate are described in the 1977 version of Trevor Griffiths as "serfs", by Michael Frayn (1978) as "serfs" and "souls", by Tom Stoppard (2009) as "living souls" , And in Text by Andrew Upton in 2011 , “people - possessed and exploited.” Sherman, pointedly, prefers “slaves” and “slavery”.
The Pennsylvania-born playwright seems to bealso underline the link between The Cherry Orchard and the buried children that haunt so many 20th century American dramas. Annis 's Ranevskaya carries like a slab on its back the lost love, to which will soon be added the death of his favorite place.
La Mathias' production is marked by striking gestures. Informed of the deaths, Ranevskaya makes the sign of the cross for everyone, then embarrassedly abandons the tribute halfway through realizing that one of the deceased has emigrated rather than expired.
McKellen brings the same level of intelligent attention to a cameo that he devotes to prospects. When he creaks down on his knees behind Gaev, one dreads a humiliating senior moment, but he bends down to straighten the folds of his master's pants, a lineman formation that still inhabits a mind with many vacancies.ants. McKellen combines poignant, comedic forgetfulness and awkwardness with clinically accurate Parkinson's tremor and gait. reform involves people becoming more like him, and Asif Khan finds a beautiful physical comedy in the tragic madman Yepikhodov. Missy Malek's Anya and Kezrena James 'Varya emotionally portray older and younger versions of Chekhov's female paradox: don't escape (The Three Sisters) or do it (The Cherry Orchard) makes little difference. Alison Halstead exudes pleasure, for her and for us, as Carlotta, a circus performer turned housekeeper.
But the brilliant spirit presiding over this Windsor reign is McKellen. His Hamlet was filmed for release, as this accompanying show should be. Able at this stage to make small quantitiesfilm work for large sums of money, he has spent the last few years filming a solo show to raise millions for theatrical charities, and then demonstrating his continued bodily and vocal mastery of classical theater. We're lucky to have it, and hope The Cherry Orchard isn't his swan song (to borrow another Chekhov song).