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The Cherry Orchard
Bristol Old Vic
IF YOU are hoping to reconfirm expectations of a lyrical turn of-the-century masterpiece, where inevitable social upheaval on a provincial Russian estate mirrors the mood of the passing seasons and elegiac sentiment prevails, this production of The Cherry Orchard is likely to disappoint.
Director Michael Boyd has worked with Rory Mullarky to produce a fresh, vibrant translation of Anton Chekhov's play, giving it a far more contemporary resonance, while Tom Piper’s in-the-round stage design makes the audience a key element. This is very much a production about performance and communication or, rather, its absence.
Kirsty Bushell’s impulsive energy, warmth and implicit sadness make her a convincing Ranyevskaya, drawing family, friends and retinue back to her doomed estate. Her inability to respond to Jude Owusu’s straight-talking, self-made entrepreneur Lopakhin on anything more than her terms is reflected in every other relationship.
The characters, locked into their own roles, perform not only for us but also for each other. Simon Coates’s sentimental and opinionated Gayev elegises to his bored yet attentive nieces, Enyi Okoronkwo’s eternal student Trofimov pontificates to an alert yet unresponsive audience while Verity Blyth’s bossy Anya attempts to bring order to an uninterested household.
Potential romances fail, with couples not hearing or saying what is required of each other, shared reminiscences are unequally felt and future plans hardly involve another participant.
The audience, directly invited into these characters’ shared world, understands their motivations and actions. We may laugh at their idiosyncrasies yet we're sensitive to their inability to communicate effectively. And we're always aware that others are watching.
Boyd’s direction, emphasising the realism of such a recognisable world, does not not shy away from Chekhov’s symbolism.
Ranyevskaya’s drowned son acts as a stage hand, whose care-free presence introduces each act, reinforcing the role of the past without steeping it in melancholy. The intrusion of a rough transient, echoes of distant emotive sounds and the lonely demise of the long-serving servant Firs are all emphasised.
The end may leave the stage devoid of action, but the audience is still there in the light, ready to play its part.
Runs until April 7, box office: bristololdvic.org.uk, then transfers to the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, from April 19-May 19, box office: royalexchange.co.uk
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