"Classic Chekhov with Live Music"
by Paul Ackroyd for remotegoat on 20/07/14

DogOrange have produced a strong engaging production of Chekhov's classic at the Brockley Jack. The studio theatre at the Brockley Jack was arranged to allow the audience to sit on three sides of the playing space so that no member of the audience is more than a few feet away from the actors. This provided a strong sense of involvement in the action. The staging was simple with only the bare minimum of furnishings and props necessary for the action moved around as required by the actors. What marked this production out in particular was the use of live music played by members of the cast on a variety of wind and string instruments sometimes accompanied by singing or chanting by the cast members. The music was effectively integrated into the action introducing scenes, playing in the background or incorporated into the action in for example the dance scene.
Brendan Murray who wrote this adaptation chose well in setting it in the period when it was originally written early 20th-century Russia and the costuming fitted the period. He says in the programme that his intention was to use language that might actually been spoken by a native English speaker of the time but to my mind the language was more modern but it was very intelligible.
The cast were universally strong with powerful portrayals of the contrasting and conflicting characters in the story. The comedic elements scripted by Chekhov the well provided for through Nic McQuillan’s portrayal of the bumbling, accident prone Yepikhodov and Bryan Pilkington's portly bearded impoverished landowner Pishchik who seem to suffer from narcolepsy suddenly dropping off to sleep in the middle of speech. These contrasted with the more tortured anguished of the central character Ranyevskaya ( Julia Faulkner ) and her adopted daughter Varya played in a very fine performance by Helen Keeley demonstrating her anguish in every move and gesture. There are a lot of servants in this production who double up with musicians. It was sometimes difficult to work out what their exact functions were but Firs, the ancient valet was distinctive in his ageing full-length tails and sympathetically played by John Sears and I also liked Victoria Sye’s portrayal of the maid Dunyasha. None of these characters had any solution or hint of the solution to the problem which faced in the family in the imminent loss of their treasured Cherry Orchard. Only Lopakhin the local businessman played by Henry Everett had any practical suggestions to make but becoming frustrated at their lack of decision in the end became the instrument of their tragedy.
The director Matthew Parker is to be commended for his effective use of limited theatre space at Brockley Jack for the 16 strong cast and the production was devoid of unnecessary effects to distract the audience’s attention away from the actors. The impact of the final dramatic scenes could have been stronger had the ominous sounds of the felling of the Cherry Orchard been more realistic.
Those who like Chekhov when I think find this production interesting and rewarding. Those who are less familiar may as I did leave the theatre in admiration for the skill of the performers but somewhat unsatisfied by the conflicted and unresolved interactions of the characters.

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