"Comedic tragedy of lonely futility"
by Peter Carrington for remotegoat on 07/09/12

Chekhov himself wished for The Cherry Orchard to amuse and affect the audience and this confident production delivers both, but in slightly unequal measure. Set at the turn of the century the play describes Russia as the outlandishly rich aristocrats declined, industrialists and other entrepreneurs rose and something new was brewing amongst the proletariat. By relocating the events to Britain, director Jordana Berk highlights the parallels in the United Kingdom at the time, with resonations to present day. At its heart however, The Cherry Orchard is a tragi-comedic morality tale about the decline of the aristocracy and the isolation that comes with not making tough yet essential decisions.

The thrust stage means that the action takes place in between two sets of audience, emphasising the 'fishbowl' nature of the play Berk wishes to highlight. The design and execution of the play is slick and professional. The set is minimal but deliberate with well-chosen pieces designed to evoke the feel of the era without overcrowding the small stage. Costumes are impressively suitable for the period depicted.

The play depicts the return of the Lady of the house, Ranevskaya (Claire Garrigan) from Paris, her wealth depleted and her land (including the vast cherry orchard) is to be auctioned, to her distress. Her brother, the foppish and pretentious Gayev (a camp, yet duplicitous Alastair Calcutt) seeks various long-shots at a solution all the while denying the former serf Lopakhin (a driven and conflicted portrayal by James Black) the land because he feels he would use it for a 'sordid' purpose. As the masters live in denial, the household, friends and servants circle them seeking their own agendas. What unites them all is a tragic hesitancy to act; a lonely lack of conviction.

The cast play to their varying strengths; Garrigan is superb as the lynchpin of the play. She is gripping in her depiction of Ranevskaya; desperate for a way to maintain her house and orchard (totems of nostalgic happiness) she plucks the empathy of the audience like cherries. We really believe in her inner conviction, her pathos and her façade. Her two daughters, the sombre housekeeper Varya (a strong performance from Noeleen Comiskey) and the sweet Anya (a charming Elizabeth Kingsman) epitomise both stoic determination of the aristocracy and the innocent optimism of youth.

Other delights of The Cherry Orchard come from a variety of supporting characters, each who are colourful as characters, who are avatars of other themes in the play but who are portrayed so skilfully. There is the governess and magician Charoltta (an impish and spritely Megan Housley), the elderly servant Firs (doddery yet insightful Bill Boyd) and the cynical Yasha (hyena-like Mark Johnson). Sarah Grove is a great comic actress as the servant Dunyasha who wishes to be a Lady. Each brings something to the production.

This is a strong production, with an able cast but one wonders about whether the tone is pushed too far towards the comedic elements, perhaps it would be best played straight and allowing the comedy to speak for itself. There is not doubt that there are farcical elements to The Cherry Orchard but it is also tragic and bittersweet. Regardless, this does not overpower the central themes of the play and the strength of the cast make this a profound and affecting evening in the theatre.

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