Monday, 19 March 2018

REVIEW: The Cherry Orchard at the Union Theatre

Anton Chekov's last play The Cherry Orchard was first performed in 1904 and has become a classic of world theatre. I last saw it at the National Theatre in 2011 in a version starring Zoe Wanamaker as Ranyevskya in which the emotional and touching loss of her home and beloved Cherry Orchard was beautifully played . In this fresh adaption the running time has been cut to less than two hours and the setting moved forward to the spring and autumn of 1917 as the Tsar is overthrown and murdered. In doing so Phil Willmott as adapter and director has given the play more focus on the social turmoil created by the rise to power of Stalin and the Bolsheviks and the changes the new order brings . He draws parallels with the Russia of today and its threat to world order. It is a chilling and dramatic reworking which keeps the essence of the story but creates a fresh feeling production.

The simple set design by Justin Williams and Jonny Rust sets the scene of the dilapidated interior of the aristocrat's house, gardens and the local railway platform. The steps down into the room create different acting levels which are very effectively used in the cast groupings. In the early scenes the student Bolshevik Trofimov enters from the garden , but in the second act he enters through the front door and dominates the room from the higher level. The setting is enhanced by an atmospheric lighting design by Sam Waddington. There is a continuous musical and noise underscore to the production which emphasises the change taking place in the world offstage.

The cast of twelve, the thirteenth cast member Robert Donald as the old footman Fiers having been unfortunately injured shortly before the play opened, are excellent. Suanne Braun is Ranyevskaya the mother and landowner torn between her lover in Paris and the home she left five years earlier after the tragic death of her son. She can't face the reality of her situation but knows she has scattered money without care and feels punished by God. Richard Gibson is unrecognisable from his Allo Allo character as her ineffectual brother Gaev , on the edge of madness as he constantly imagines he is playing billiards.

Feliks Mathur gets the balance right as Trofimov , the threatening local revolutionary leader torn by his loyalty to the old family who he was once tutor to and his love for the daughter of the house Anya , charmingly played by Lucy Menzies. The introductory scene to their relationship as he reads her letter is beautifully framed and lit.

The other odd couple are Varya , the adopted daughter (Lakesha Cammock) and her supposed fiancĂ© the peasant boy on the rise in society Lopakhin (Christopher Laishley). She is passionate and loyal but starved of affection and he is too concerned with making good to notice her. 

Checkov would have approved of this updated adaptation which stays true to the story and the impact of revolutionary change on families and makes it excitingly different and interesting in a very fine ensemble production.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★ 

Seat: Front Stalls | Price of Ticket: £22.50
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