Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cheery Chekov

Today was wonderful.

As you might have deduced, one of my favorite places not only in London, but in the world, is the National Theatre. It is my goal to work there one day because they put on such amazing shows with fantastic casts at very reasonable prices. Both Laura and I wanted to do the backstage tour as well as see The Cherry Orchard, so we decided to make a day of it.

It didn't start out well- though we left an hour early, our tube station was closed and we had to walk about a half-mile to the next one. The line we had to take is one of the slowest in the underground system, and we knew that in order to make the tour, we would have to run. And we did- we sprinted from the tube station to the theatre, only to find that they put an earlier time on the website so people will be on time.

I'd been on the tour before two years ago, but a tour at the National will vary from day to day because their shows are reperatory, which means that a show that's on today might not be on tomorrow. Our tour guide was great and we got to see some really cool behind-the-scenes stuff like an unused horse puppet from War Horse (which is one of the shows I wanted to see here and didn't), several sets, and some props being made. Sadly, we weren't allowed to take pictures, so I have none.

When the tour finished, we had about two hours before the show began, so Laura and I grabbed lunch and then took some pictures in and around the theatre (...we both really love the National.)

I will confess, the reason Laura and I wanted to see The Cherry Orchard was not because it was written by an extremely famous playwright. In fact, neither of us had a clue what the show was about. However, we are both huge fans of Zoe Wannamaker, the leading actress in the show. Most people know her as Madame Hooch from the first Harry Potter movie, but I became a fan of hers after watching the British sitcom My Family for many, many years.

Had she not been in the show, I probably wouldn't have seen it- all I know about Chekov is that his plays feature a lot of cold, depressed Russian people. And this show did, but they also made it really funny in places. The cast was great, and I was surprised to find out that Claudie Blakley (Charlotte Lucas from 2005's Pride and Prejudice) was in it. The acting was great, and I'm really glad we got the better seats so we could see everyone's faces. Zoe Wannamaker has a very distinctive acting style; though she didn't by any means play Susan from My Family, she does amazing things with her voice just like she does on the show. Claudie Blakley, too, has her own style so that even if you didn't recognize her name, you'd remember that you'd seen her in P&P.

I have at least two copies of The Cherry Orchard at home, but I've never read the play, and I'm glad I saw my first Chekov rather than reading it. The cast did a fantastic job with the material (it was technically an "updated" version, but it wasn't updated a lot; the dialogue was still very old fashioned), but I know that if I had been reading it, I would have spent the whole time thinking, "Stop talking about your bookcase. No one cares about your stupid bookcase" (which was monologued about for a long time. On stage, funny. On paper- NOT.)

One complaint that Laura and I had were the sound effects. Some of them just sounded fake, but others were confusing. This play was one you really had to pay attention to, and Laura missed one character coming onstage and asking another if they could wait to chop down the orchard until her mother had left the property. Because the chopping sounded more like a clock ticking than it did chopping, that's what Laura thought it was.

Overall, the play was really, really well done. The lighting was great and very detailed- they even put fireflies in the tall grass in an outdoor scene. The actors were wonderful and they didn't bow twice, which made me like them even more. Definitely go see this show if you're around London when it's on!


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