REVIEW: BBC Audio CD: The Cherry Orchard (Classic Radio Theatre), £9.49. Available from

Comedy or tragedy? You pay your money and you take your choice - though maybe this BBC production, for all its merits, might not have been to Chekhov’s own particular taste.

The piece premiered at the Moscow Art Theatre on January 17 1904 in a production directed by Constantin Stanislavski. Chekhov famously insisted he had written a comedy; Stanislavski equally famously directed it as a tragedy, and it’s closer to this latter route that the Beeb chooses to go here.

Arguably, the comedy isn’t terribly easy to find, but this isn’t a production particularly keen to look for it, an approach which gives the whole thing a wordy heaviness which probably doesn’t do it much justice.

Probably best to dwell instead on the terrific cast - featuring Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Sinead Cusack, Anna Massey, Patricia Routledge and Andrew Sachs - which brought it to life for this particular production in 1974.

Madame Ranevskaya must face the sale of her beloved orchard and the whole family estate, in order to pay off mounting debts - a tale which takes us to the heart of a society in flux.

The aristocracy, useless and not even particularly decorative are acquiescent in their own demise as the middle classes rise, the orchard ultimately passing into the triumphant hands of the son of a former servant.

Chekhov doubtless thought he was sending up both the futile upper classes and their grasping social inferiors - but there is little sense of that here.

Instead, rather appealingly, there is a big-name cast showing just how wonderfully well drama can work on radio. Close your eyes, and you are there - even if the dual nature of the play isn’t perfectly realised.

Phil Hewitt