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A CurtainUp Review
The Cherry Orchard

I wait all day for something to happen, for the houses to fall down around our ears.
--- Madame Ranevskaya
In this last of Chekhov's four great plays, more than any of the others is the portrayal of Russia, ripe for a regime change with a new thrusting intelligentsia in conflict with the old land owning class. The cherry orchard loses its economic viability when there are no longer any serfs to pick the cherries. However when Chekhov was asked what The Cherry Orchard was about he said, Act One -- they are wondering whether they will have to sell the cherry orchard; Act Two -- they are going to sell the cherry orchard; Act Three -- the cherry orchard is sold; Act Four -- what they do after the cherry orchard is sold. This story may be apocryphal but I like its "matter of factness.".

Dominic Dromgoole brings his considerable directorial talent to this production for the Oxford Stage Company. Samuel Adamson has written this new translation as he did for the very successful 1999 production of The Three Sisters also for the Oxford Stage Company.

The emphasis in Dromgoole's production seems to be that the land owning family are not only ostriches in refusing to meet the inevitable change but shallow in their lack of regard for anyone else. This Cherry Orchard is not a wallow in nostalgic regret. Dromgoole does this by letting Lyubov Ranevskaya (Geraldine James) switch very quickly from sadness at the misery of her drowned son to some other topic making her grief seem superficial and self indulgent and herself manipulative. She is able to cast it off when it suits her. In addition, the purchaser of the cherry orchard, the son of a servant, Yermotal Lopakhin (Trevor Fox) is played as a handsome and noble character rather than as a vulgar upstart. The future is represented by Petya Trofimov (Mark Bonnar) and Ranevskaya's daughter Anya (Jemma Powell), the latter wearing a liberated, short divided skirt and a black cap like Lenin's.

The performances are excellent. Geraldine James has great presence as Ranevskaya, one of the few of Chekhov's characters who has the ability to leave her situation and someone to go back to, in Paris. Handsome Brian Protheroe seems to have a larger presence as Gaev, her brother, here well meaning but as ineffectual to actually change anything as ever. Michael Matus as the hapless Yepikhodov, he of the squeaky shoes, provides much of the play's humour as he lurches from incompetence to near disaster. I liked Mark Bonnar's intelligent voice of the future, the eternal student and of course Trevor Martin as Firs, the elderly manservant, firmly rooted in the past who is left with no role by the change in circumstance. Dunyasha (Lucy Gaskell) the maid is very flirtatious and sexually provocative towards Yasha (Francis Lee), the manservant whose rudeness jars. Mairead McKinley is desperately disappointed as the worthy Varya when Lopahkin fails to propose to her.

Dromgoole pays less attention to sets than many. Draped garlands of white flowers are arranged in hanging rows so that the characters can snake along these corridors to give an impression of travelling a distance but ignoring the actual flowering season of the cherry trees. I do think that when the trees are being chopped down we should always be able to hear them being cut and falling. These are minor flaws, overall I enjoyed this nicely acted and stimulating production.

For links to reviews of other productions of The Cherry Orchard, and other Chekhov reviews and information, see our Chekhov Backtrounder.

The Cherry Orchard
Written by Anton Chekhov
A new version by Samuel Adamson
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Starring: Geraldine James
With: Trevor Fox, Lucy Gaskell, Michael Matus, Trevor Martin, Jemma Powell, Mairead McKinley, Brian Protheroe, Abigail McKern, John Dougall, Francis Lee, Mark Bonnar, Paul Rainbow
Designer: Rachel Blues
Lighting Designer: Natasha Chivers
Sound: Tim Mascall
Music: Mick Sands
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes with one interval .
Box Office: 020 8237 1111
Booking to 28th June 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th June 2003 Performance at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London W6 (Tube Station: Hammersmith)

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