The Cherry Orchard: one to Chek’ov your list this term



For anyone as unfamiliar with Chekhov as I am, this is a good place to start. The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov’s last play  – and one of his most highly regarded – challenges its directors and cast by demanding a broad scope of emotion.  This production doesn’t fall short of the mark.

Using their own translation of Chekhov’s script, directors Melissa Purkiss and Aurora Dawson-Hunte have created an engaging piece of theatre which will entertain and intrigue its audience.  It will also be completely unique – both in script and in direction.  Just as in Britain, we play with Shakespeare productions, in Russia, it is more common to be creative with interpreting Chekhov.  As such, this set will not be naturalistic, but based mainly in a nursery; there will be other quirks, too, such as live music.  In particular, Jonathan Purkiss’s dramatic guitar playing added colour to the extract I saw, and, spread across the whole play, it has the potential to show Chekhov in a new and interesting light.

Although I have seen only Act Two, it is clear that the level of acting in this production will be of the highest standard beginning to end. The actors – one of whom only joined the cast two days ago and was already off-script – had completely won me over in a matter of minutes. The obvious risk in a play like The Cherry Orchard is that the characters will instead be depicted as caricatures, and the extract that I saw was not exempt from this. For the actors who only appeared onstage for brief moments, there was a certain lack of depth which made them less convincing than the protagonists. But the stars of this production, though they demonstrated the potential for this caricaturing, developed into rounded and fascinating characters as time went on.

I was most impressed, however, by the details that the directors have added to ensure the audience will be captivated by every moment of the play.  I was invited to watch part of a rehearsal as well as a run of Act Two and it is clear that every glance, snigger and yawn has been carefully thought-through.  Of course, this too carries the risk that the play will lose its freshness and have become routine by its opening night, but the cast is strong enough to avoid that. These details make the relationships between characters realistic and interesting.

Fiona Johnston’s Lyubov was exceptionally well played, striking an unnerving balance of joy, hysteria, and manic depression.  Both Lyubov and the studious Trofimov (Ben Dawes) have challengingly long monologues, and Johnston and Dawes were brave in their delivery, pushing their emotions to the limits but not too far into melodrama. The quieter characters were equally convincing.  Will Law and Luke Howarth’s convincing old men added comic touches of mimicking each other’s laughter and snoring to interrupt intellectual speeches, keeping the pace up in some of the more difficult parts of the script.  The range that this cast showed in just one act was notable – they glided easily between humour, silent tension, drunken interruptions, and young love, and this is over a week before opening night.

Based on what I’ve seen, this production will be outstanding in its entirety. It offers a taste of everything, not only the mixture of pain and comedy Chekhov is known for, but the full range of human emotions depicted in a fresh light.  Take my advice: don’t miss this.

Barbarian Productions version of The Cherry Orchard opens 7.30pm 28th February in the O’Reilly Theatre. 

Tickets available from £6.

PHOTO/ Caroline Ames