Jane Darby’s production of The Cherry Orchard was a wonderful mix of brutality and comedy, a mixture that seems to permeate all of Chekhov’s work.
The stripped back walls of the Raneskya’s country estate were a haunting reminder of the central struggle that occupy the characters, that of a decaying aristocracy trying to cling to the vision of a glorious past. This play never felt more relevant, with resurgent nationalist and populist movements seeming to be driven by a desire to get back to a simpler time, however unjust that time might have been. As the servant, Firs, comments, ‘Before it all went wrong, before we were set free’.
This group of actors excelled under detailed direction, developing characters of astounding detail and maturity. Lucy Hudson (EL U6) as Lyubov Raneskaya created a vivid depiction of a woman on the verge of total collapse. Her simpering yet seductive delusions were both frightening and compelling. Nell Macaire (NC U6) was equally as powerful as Varya desperately trying to hold the house together. The relationship between her and Ben Powell’s (CO U6) Lopakhin was fascinating to watch from his initial and confusing ‘moo!’ to the final scene where their inability to speak to each other was incredibly moving. Jim Crossland’s (C1 U6) Firs stuttered around the stage and provided much of the observational humour with excellent precision. An energetic and wilful performance from Salome Northridge (IH L6) gave her Anya a devastating sense of hope that seemed out of place in the decaying environment. Charlie Thomas’s (CO L6) Trofimov was expertly restrained; the passion always simmering beneath his thinly disguised contempt of the class he seemed so drawn to. Max Fould’s (SU L6) Boris was full of the desperate bombast but at its core was a clear and painful need to survive. His final farewell brought many laughs from the audience but was also a brittle display of the aristocracy’s final gasp of formality. Fraser Hutchinson’s (C2 U6) Leonid was also full of a joyous exterior hiding his own ineptitude and sense of grief for a way of life that was disappearing around him. His ode to the bookcase was beautifully timed to great comic effect and yet scorched with its own sense of absurd tragedy. For more comedy Issy Carr’s (EL U6) Charlotta provided some fast paced wit, usually in the form of sharp and insightful criticisms of her superiors. Virat Talwar (C2 L6) also excelled as Yepikhodov, clumsily loping around the space in pursuit of Rebecca Addison’s (PR U6) Dunyasha who in turn shamelessly pursued Ijah Ofon’s (C1 Re) arrogant and tight-lipped Yasha. The detail in each of these performances was reflected in that of the ensemble who scuttled around the space interrupting delicate conversations and intimate moments. The bold nature of this ‘slice of life’ realism was uncomfortable and yet entirely absorbing, an objective this ensemble took incredibly seriously. There were many wonderful moments in each act but the energetic opening of Act Three was a wonderful mixture of stylised formality and uncompromising realism. This conflict of style created a great sense of the house collapsing; something more animalistic was taking over. Set against Paul Cox’s remarkable tinder-box design, it was threatening and yet somehow still hinted at the warmth of a glorious past. The lighting design by Elese Ayres was similarly striking with the realistic creation of an external world impacting the action through every door and window.
This was an outstanding ensemble performance that brilliantly combined outstanding design with beautifully crafted performances. Congratulations to all involved in this memorable and powerful production.
Head of Drama