The Cherry Orchard

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!


7 Responses to “The Cherry Orchard”

  1. Bryn Jones Says:

    It must have been an interesting and enjoyable production.

    It might be worth noting that next to the Sherman Theatre on Senghennydd Road is the building in which the Department of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy of University College Cardiff was located in the 1980s. Most of the astronomers were in the north side of the building, closest to the Sherman Theatre, most on the first floor. A majority moved to the Department of Physics in the main college building in Cathays Park when University College Cardiff merged with the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology to form the University of Wales College of Cardiff in 1988.

    • telescoper Says:

      The School of Mathematics is still there, but the building is scheduled for demolition as soon as a new one can be built.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        The building is a bit cramped, with rather small rooms and corridors. All the same, demolition is a bit sad.

      • telescoper Says:

        It’s also riddled with asbestos. The plan is for Maths to relocate to a new building with Computer Science, but that will take at least 4 years.

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        Asbestos? I didn’t know about that. I’m now trying to remember whether there was any building work during the mid-late 1980s that could have disturbed any dust.

        I recall the preparations for turning office space overlooking the railway into a computing terminal room. A circular hole had to be cut in the window glass for an extractor fan. A workman reviewing the tasks in advance commented to a colleague about cutting the hole in the glass and explained that it was for astronomers, so they were probably going to stick a telescope through the hole.

      • telescoper Says:

        Here’s a Cardiff University news story about the new building, though if they haven’t even found a site yet I very much doubt it will be built within the 4-year timescale mentioned in the piece:

      • Bryn Jones Says:

        That looks an adventurous plan. Good luck to Cardiff University in finding a suitable site.

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