Chekov blooms with themes of today
The Cherry Orchard
ON A COLD, October
evening there was something warm and comforting about the expansive, sun
dappled room that sets the scene on this latest adaptation of Anton
Chekov’s classic, The Cherry Orchard.
With such a wide stage, the
indoor settings seem cavernous - a challenge indeed for the lighting
designer to suggest any feeling of needed intimacy. Conversely, the
outdoor scenes are perfectly suited to this kind of space. Visually,
there are some moments of real magic here – the sun setting gradually on
an orchard clearing was a joy to watch as was the smooth transition
This is a classic tale with very modern themes. Loyalty. Family values. Unrequited love. The power of money. It’s all there! At the root of it stands Liubov Ranevskaya, (Josie Lawrence) a lady with a heart of gold and something of a laissez faire attitude to money.
Generous with her loans as well as with her affections, Liubov sweeps across the stage , embracing and kissing everyone in her wake – a ‘people person’ of the highest order!
Her dilemma – to face financial hardship but keep her
beloved cherry orchard or sell to the highest bidder and put much needed
funds in the bank. As the pressure mounts, something has to give and
emotions run high.
Josie Lawrence is hugely watchable. Presence is hard
to define but this Black Country actress, back on home turf, has it in
spades. She almost glides round the stage embracing both the language
and indeed most of the other characters en route.
This is, however, no one woman show. A strong ensemble
cast bring out of the beauty of this piece. Comedy moments are savoured
and Tom Stoppard’s adaptation brings a slightly modern edge to the
The Birmingham Rep has something for everyone this
season. From new writing to classic work. No excuses not to go
Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, The Cherry Orchard runs until 06-11-10
still blooming . . .
still blooming . . .
away the layers of social etiquette and formality within
Cherry Orchard and what’s left is a narrative that appears as
contemporary as any other in these times of
financial difficulty and mortgage repossession.
Liubov Andreevna Ranevskaya (Josie
Laurence) returns with her brother and daughter to their family home
after five years abroad. It’s a homecoming full of bitter sweet
memories. The once great house set in the cherry orchard has fallen into
neglect, accumulating considerable mortgage arrears. With the estate now
doomed to be auctioned off to pay her debts, Liubov, her friends and
family struggle with the reality of each of their unsettling financial
and emotional situations.
It’s a play of subtle metaphors of
a country on the verge of wide political change. Like the business man
Lopakhin (John Ramm) whose transition from his uneducated peasant
upbringing to the eventual owner of the cherry orchard, demonstrates the
considerable shift in power through accumulated wealth. Yet it leaves
him both joyous and embarrassed with his new social standing.
There seems little to laugh about
in this comedy but it’s there in the face of adversity. “ I am an 80s
man” says Liubov’s brother Leonid (Patrick Drury) .A comment that raised
a full laugh even though he was referring to another century.
None of Chekhov’s women fare
favourably in this mans world. “He died of Champagne”, recounts Liubov
regretfully of her husband. There is her daughter Anya’s (Amy
McAllister) doting admiration for the more than mature student Trofimov
(Anthony Flanagan) whose obsession with intellectuality claims they are
“above love”. While the housemaid Dunyasha (Joanna Horton) waits
insecurely for a proposal of marriage from Lopakhin. A tension that is
concluded in one of the best moments within the production.
This adaptation by Tom Stoppard,
his third of Chekhov’s’ work, unsurprisingly seems to have added an
ingredient of British stiff upper lip perhaps giving it a wider appeal
but at the sacrifice of its roots.
This is further added too by the
direction of Rachel Kavanaugh who keeps the topping on this rich cake
very light. There are moments of desperation but often its all iced over
and rescued before we have a chance to appreciate its darker flavour.
As a production there is little
room for intimacy on this wide expanse corridor-like, tower of a set
whose scale is accentuated by the long cross stage walks of the aging
servant Firs (Leonard Fenton) and whose doddery dementia secures the
larger part of the comedy.
Laurence’s mere presence is both
commanding and formidable as Liubov. There is an added sense of a
homecoming for a girl from Old Hill in the West Midlands returning to
the Birmingham Rep, which ironically is itself due to close in a few
months for reconstruction work.
Throughout, this is a bright,
optimistic and highly enjoyable Cherry Orchard. One where the
inhabitants smile through adversity and shrug off their sense of deeper
loss and uncertain futures.
However it is a production where
the familiar statement your home will be repossessed if you do not
keep up repayments proves there is much more to lose than just
bricks and mortar for not doing so, and even in a comedy that’s no
laughing matter. To 06-11-10