From Russia with laughs

<!--StartFragment--> <strong>Theatre</strong><br />THE CHERRY ORCHARD<br /><strong>The Old Vic</strong><br />THIS new production by Sam Mendes is one half of a double bill under the title of The Bridge Project, conceived by Mendes and Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey to bring together an Anglo-American company touring two productions at once. The other show is Shakespeare&rsquo;s A Winter&rsquo;s Tale. It might seem like a tall order to take on arguably the two greatest playwrights at once, and on this viewing, it doesn&rsquo;t quite work.<br /><br />Sinead Cusack is mesmerising as the life-battered and bankrupt aristocratic land-owner Ranevskaya whose existence is tied to her cherry orchard. Sadly, the rest of the cast fails to match her. Simon Russell Beale is underused and too self-deprecating to be quite believable as &ldquo;jumped-up kulak&rdquo; Lopakhin. Paul Jesson is solid as Gaev, Ranevskaya&rsquo;s brother, but the other cast-members don&rsquo;t quite get under the skins of their characters, including Ethan Hawke&rsquo;s shouty turn as the eternal student Trofinov. Maybe that&rsquo;s the problem with doing two plays at once.<br /><br />It&rsquo;s admirable that Mendes has tried to bring out the comedy in the play (which is how Chekhov intended it), but getting Tom Stoppard to add in some verbal slapstick misses the point, and you get the feeling that the production needed more work to bring out the dark humour. There&rsquo;s something flashy and brash about this, where it should be quiet and contemplative.<br /><br />Despite the faults, what makes this worthwhile is Chekhov&rsquo;s humanity and pity. The play is a brilliant meditation on the way that lives are derailed by the unexpected. For a play about the passage of time, it&rsquo;s a work that Mendes and co didn&rsquo;t seem to spend more of it perfecting this production.<br /><strong>Jeremy Hazlehurst</strong><br /><br />AS YOU LIKE IT<br /><strong>Shakespeare&rsquo;s Globe</strong><br />A PLAY at the Globe is always enjoyable. Even when you are surrounded by middle-class ladies and wealthy American tourists watching an unadventurous production, the experience is raw, direct and exciting. The other great thing about the Globe is that you generally know what you are going to get: a set of good, solid performances with fine verse-reading, powerful voices and not too many attempts at modern dress or experiments.<br /><br />This production gives no surprises. Naomi Frederick as Rosalind and Laura Rogers as Celia do their jobs, Jack Laskey&rsquo;s Orlando is weedy but pretty enough, Dominic Rowan as Touchstone the jester is comical but not too outrageous, and covers up the incomprehensible jokes about rhetoric and so on with crowd-pleasing dancing. The forest-dwellers say their lines nicely. A little more vim wouldn&rsquo;t have gone amiss, but it all does the job.<br /><br />Director Thea Sharrock brings out the kinkiness of the cross-dressing plot at the expense of the rather outdated Renaissance speeches about love and lovers, just as the audience wants it. &ldquo;Monsieur melancholy&rdquo; Jacques (Tim McMullan) is a charismatic, lugubrious presence, but a little more could have been made of the stand-out &ldquo;all the world&rsquo;s a stage&rdquo; speech.<br /><br />The first half drags a little, and cried out for cutting, but the second descends into near-farce that will entertain anybody with a humour gland. A good summer evening&rsquo;s entertainment, and we&rsquo;d expect nothing less from the Globe.<br /> <strong>JH</strong><br /><br /> <!--StartFragment--> <strong>Art</strong><br />RICHARD LONG<br /><strong>Tate Britain</strong><br />FOR it&rsquo;s major exhibition of the outdoors season, Tate Britain is focusing on an artist whose principal medium is the great outdoors itself. Richard Long made his name in 1967, when he went to a field outside London, walked up and down it until he&rsquo;d made a line in the grass, and photographed it. This famous piece of conceptual art launched a career based around Long&rsquo;s continuing interplay with the natural landscape as he wanders through it.<br /><br />The Tate&rsquo;s survey is not so much about individual works as it is about the total mass of his oeuvre. There are photographic documents of the simple interventions he has made on his rambles around remote areas of the world &ndash; trampled lines, scuffed circles of twigs, stones in patterns. Maps and text works mark his interests and encounters, and stone installations feature shards and boulders arranged in neat patterns on the gallery floor.<br /><br />There&rsquo;s a pleasing spaciousness and sense of escape here. Long is never rearranging nature, so much as leaving a shadow of his passage across it, and a gentle sense of beauty imbues much of what&rsquo;s on show. Where all his wanderings ultimately lead is hard to say, but it&rsquo;s pleasant enough to tag along.<br /><strong>Timothy Barber</strong><br /><br /><strong>Opera</strong><br />LULU<br /><strong>Royal Opera House</strong><br />WHEN Lulu was first performed in 1937 it caused great offence and furore. Even modern audiences are jarred by its story of depravity, monstrosity and sexual power-play.<br /><br />Alban Berg took the story from two plays by the German playwright Frank Wedekind, whose Spring Awakening &ndash; recently in musical form in the West End &ndash; sent ripples through London with its ruthless, exciting melodrama.<br /><br />The opera is atonal and long (over three hours) and Christof Loy&rsquo;s production doesn&rsquo;t make the unforgiving music any easier to take. The role of Lulu is unique in opera &ndash; the leading lady must be a man-wrecking, money-grabbing guttersnipe turned wealthy woman of the world who magnetises as much as she repels. Here she&rsquo;s played by Agneta Eichenholz, a little-known Swedish soprano, very austere-looking and slight, though beguiling in her tight black dresses and stilettos.<br /><br />The staging is completely minimalist: empty rooms, bright lights, suits and business attire. In this context the men in Lulu&rsquo;s orbit flail and die, or kill, with Lulu remaining a blank, inscrutable and ultimately destructive force at their core. The production is supremely bleak, almost philosophically so.<br /><br />I craved something to lighten this excessively stark tableau, and would have welcomed more colour, noise and passion.<br /><strong>Zoe Strimpel</strong><!--EndFragment-->