‘The Cherry Orchard’ at Keble O’Reilly: a new lease of life
In this adaptation of Chekhov’s famous masterpiece, set to the backdrop of 1920s prohibition America, the narrative is enhanced by the effective use of Jazz music from the live band, and by the talented cast.
The play follows the decline of the Ranevsky estate, as Mrs Ranevsky (Tara Kilcoyne) returns to her ancestral home from France, at the behest of her daughters Anya (Lara Deering) and Varya (Alma Pretec). When they arrive they are reminded by the merchant Lopakhin (Jon Berry) that the estate is to be sold to pay the family’s debts. This is much to the dismay of Mrs Ravenvsky, her daughters, and her brother Gayev (Harry Clements) who all long to maintain ownership of their estate along with its nationally renowned cherry orchard. The play centers around three central themes: the attempts of the estate owners to prevent the sale, the socialist teachings of the eternal student Trofimov (Christopher Page) and his close relationship with Anya, and the love triangle of clerk Yepikhodov (Tom Saer), maidservant Dunyasha (Kayla Kim) and Mrs Renevsky’s valet Yasha (Gavin Fleming). These narratives are developed by the actions of fellow struggling aristocrat Pishchik (Ariel Levine) who reflects the dire situation of the Ranevsky estate with his own money issues, the melancholy governess Charlotta (Conky Kampfner) and the senile ramblings of old manservant Firs (Lee Simmonds).
The vision of the director, Ross Moncrieff, was evident throughout; the play held together well and the innovative new setting and fluid cast chemistry speak volumes about Mocrieff’s direction. Indeed he gave the play, a classic, a new lease of life.
The venue was utilized well by the crew, with effective use of lighting and sound creating an immersive experience, strongly complementing the cast. Background sounds were used to immersive effect and the use of spotlighting helped to emphasize the significance of certain scenes.
A highlight was the performance of Jon Berry, as the wealthy merchant Lopakhin, bringing a distinct gravitas and presence to the role. His charismatic portrayal commanded every scene he was in, and brought a human depth to his version of the serf raised up to wealth by hard work and the changing social system. The performance of Lee Simmonds, as the aged manservant Firs, consistently provides much needed comic relief from the bleak overtones of the narrative. He interrupts the serious tone of crucial scenes with deliberate ramblings about the past, an effective metaphor for the adherence to the old ways which seems to prevent the owners from saving their estate. The whole cast provide an effective and consistent display of the characters they have taken on, and as such any fan of theatre would recognize and appreciate their performances.
The real thing that makes this production stand out is the use of music, with a five piece live band used to the fullest extent. The setting in 1920s America is upheld by the use of Jazz music, with Josh Cottell on piano and vocals, Rhys Underdown and Bethy Reeves on saxophone, James Hobson on bass and Chris Cottell on drums ensuring that the atmosphere of the setting was not just inclusive but inescapable. The band even managed to make the interval entertaining, with jazz interludes to fill the gap in the action. Overall The Cherry Orchard was very enjoyable, with the cast and live band its main attributes.