Thursday, 11 November 2004

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, Nov 11, 2004

 The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
translated by David Lan by Pieces Of Work
 fortyfivedownstairs November 11 to 28, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on November 11 to 28, 2004

This production of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, is a happy surprise. The direction by Kate Wild is intelligent and sensitive to Chekhov's Russian comedy. She explores both pathos and laughter in the play.

The play was first performed in 1904, just one year before the first Russian Revolution and fifty years after the emancipation of the peasants.

The characters and ideologies of the period are clearly reflected in Chekhov's intimate little world of faded gentry, loyal servants, upstart peasants and radical students.

Virginia Denham is credible and compelling as Liubov Ranevskaya, (OK) matriarch of the Russian country estate that houses the titular cherry orchard.

Denham plays the role with charm and an effervescent cheer that frequently cannot mask Ranevskaya's grief over the loss of her husband, son and now her family's estate.

We are chillingly aware of her complete denial of the urgency of solving the estate's financial dilemma when she ignores Lopakhin's, (OK) (Paul Denny) warnings of the impending bank auction of the orchard.

Denny finds a suitable brusque kindliness as Lopakhin, the uneducated peasant, now self-made businessman, who advises Ranevskaya to subdivide the orchard.

Chekhov's play is riddled with dysfunctional personalities. Gaev (OK) (Phil Roberts) Liubov's brother, is a babbling, ageing gentleman obsessed with billiards and unable to accept his spiral into poverty.

He is uncle to her pretty, selfish and much adored daughter, Anya, (OK) played sweetly by Simone Ray, is perhaps the only realist in the family.

 Anya's adopted sister, Varya, is the plain, practical and oft ignored daughter of Liubov.  Melissa Chambers gives her a comic edge but plays her with sympathy, maintaining Varya's great passion.

The set design by Glendon Fletcher, (OK) is evocative, decking the long space with translucent stencilled white fabric that is torn down to represent the demise of the estate.

Music by a quartet of strings and a soundscape by Roger Alsop, enhance the atmosphere and evoke the period.

There are delightful comic performances from John Flaus as the muttering old, loyal and very deaf servant, Firs (OK) and Reg Evans as the voluble Simeonov-Pischik. (OK)

Thomas Milton is delightful as Yepikhodov, (K) the accountant with poor luck and Angus Grant plays the radical and idealistic student, Trofimov. (OK)

If you have not seen the Cherry Orchard, Wild's production is a good place to begin.

LOOK FOR: The excruciating moment when Lopakhin almost proposes to Varya.

By Kate Herbert

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