The Cherry Orchard
By Anton Chekhov
Royal Exchange Theatre and Bristol Old Vic
Royal Exchange Theatre, 24 April 2018
There is much to praise about this production of The Cherry Orchard, one of Chekhov’s great plays.
The performances were steely and strong, with Jude Owusu as Yermolai Alekseyevich Lopakhin, the self-made businessman descended from serfs (as was Chekhov himself), a realist who urges Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya (Kirsty Bushell) and her brother Leonid Andreyevich Gayev (Simon Coates) to get with the times, to sell their only asset, a bountiful cherry orchard at once, before it falls in value. They cannot countenance its destruction and the encroachment of the railways, a force bringing great change. There is the spectacle of aristocrats living hand to mouth, subsisting on borrowed money and time, delaying the inevitable. Existing beyond their means.
They were supremely chiselled individuals, all these people, which is a great tribute to the cast. In particular, Eva Magyar as Charlotta Ivanovna, an athletic older woman, caught the eye, one compelling performance amongst many.
Throughout the play, few individuals were able or willing to adjust to the sizeable quakes of seismic historical forces. Cometh the hour, no one showed up. Some were catatonic, lost in the febrile labyrinths of their personal affairs, some seemingly lacked energy and drive. There was a bit of a Brexit resonance to it all. The cherry orchard (poppies unseen) as nostalgia for a lost empire, all of that.
Which brings us to Tom Piper’s design. The Royal Exchange offers theatre in the round, of course, and here the actors looked outward at the cherry orchard, at a bounty that was always off stage. On stage, Piper’s design was minimalist but, to be frank, nothing special. I like Tom Piper’s work very much: the poppies, the Blood exhibition at Jewish Museum London, Endgame at HOME, but I didn’t see anything distinctive here. Perhaps at the Bristol Old Vic it looked different.
The Cherry Orchard, a great play redolent with futuristic speculation and humour, passion and muted tragedy, is showing at the Royal Exchange until 19 May, further details can be found here.