(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/3; Photo: The party’s over … Nina Hoss in The Cherry Orchard. Photograph: Johan Persson.)

Donmar Warehouse, London
Nina Hoss stars in a kookily immersive production but the devastating hammer blow of the Russian tragicomedy is not lost in translation

It is initially hard to fathom where Benedict Andrews’ conspicuously kooky  take on Anton Chekhov’s final drama is going. Actors come on looking like modern-day eccentrics and festivalgoers rather than Russian aristocrats of an ancient regime giving way to the new.

They swear, vape and address us directly as they play out the fate of a bored, profligate landed family led by a glamorous matriarch, Ranevskaya (Nina Hoss), who returns home from her Parisian misadventures to continue the party, despite growing debt and the prospective sale of her centuries-old estate.

We stand in for props, too, on Magda Willi’s otherwise empty stage. One audience member is referred to as a side table, another a bookcase. It is supremely off-the-wall, not least because a garish carpet is wrapped all around the auditorium, making it look like a Russian drawing room that has been put through a surreal, Alice in Wonderland blender. Is this weird, immersive, audience-participation Chekhov?

Kind of, but rather than careering into an almighty misfire, Andrews’ production gradually builds to reveal its grand, devastating vision. An auditorium that never goes dark implicates us in the drama: we might be the family’s observing guests or the impoverished peasant interlopers who have taken up home in their estate.

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