Archive for November 1, 2017

The Cherry Orchard

Posted in Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2017 by telescoper

Last night I found a way of avoiding the trick-or-treaters by spending the evening at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff (which is just round the corner from my place of work) for a performance of an updated and adapted version of Anton Chekhov’s last play, The Cherry Orchard.

Simon Armstrong (Gabriel) with Hedydd Dylan (Valerie)

Picture credit here.

Chekhov’s masterpiece was written in 1903 at a time of social and economic upheaval in Russia, as the power and wealth of the old aristocracy faded and the abolition of serfdom gave rise to a new middle class. This remarkably compelling production translates basically the story to rural West Wales (Pembrokeshire, to be precise) in the era of the Thatcher government (1982 to be precise). The overall structure of the original is kept, but the number of characters is reduced (by eliminating and merging some roles) and the text substantially changed. What emerges remains faithful to Chekhov’s intention to combine comedy with tragedy. This version is witty in a way that’s a bit gentler than the original, and is frequently extremely funny, but the undertone is always one of of impending loss and heartbreak. And it’s not just the sale of the orchard to pay off debts and the general decline of the aristocratic lifestyle that affects the family at the centre of the play, it’s also the tragic death of a young boy in the past that brings back memories that they have tried to forget and provides – appropriately enough for Hallowe’een – an element of a ghost story.

The plot revolves around the Mother, Rainey (cf. Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya of the original), who returns to Bloomfield farm just as the orchard is about to sold off to pay the farm’s debts. In this production. Played by Denise Black, Rainey is a bitter, drunken woman with a capacity for cruelty to family and strangers alike. Gradually, though, we come to feel some sympathy for her as it becomes clear that beneath her acerbic exterior there is a deep sorrow (caused by the death of her son years previously). It’s an utterly convincing performance.

Other characters are engagingly drawn too. Richard Mylan is Ceri, an unemployed leather-clad `anarcho-socialist’ who forms a relationship with Rainey’s rather posh daughter, Anya (Morfydd Clark). Their romance provides a number of memorable comic moments. Gabriel (Simon Armstrong) the eccentric and clueless `uncle’, at one point proposes to the maid Dottie (Alexandria Riley) who is the most sensible character in the play and who gives him very short shrift. Matthew Bulgo is Lewis, a former ditch-digger, who hits on the idea to buy the orchard and chop down the trees so he can build houses on the land. The other character is Hedydd Dylan as Valerie (Rainey’s adopted daughter) who seems to be in charge of keeping the struggling farm going, and who is in a strange kind of relationship with Lewis whose nature is never really elucidated.

This a great production that manages to be extremely inventive at the same time as being very real, brought vividly to life by a great ensemble performance by the cast. Well done to everyone involved for a thoroughly superb night at the theatre!

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