The Cherry Orchard is a play about change. The outdated aristocracy comes under threat from the emerging middle class, and must adapt or fall victim to progress. Chekhov being Chekhov, the characters decide that their course of action will be fatal inaction. The rest is, as they say, history.
The plot is really that simple. The owner of the Cherry Orchard estate, Madame Ranevskya (played by Emma Francis), returns home after several years in Paris. She is saddled with debts and a demanding entourage which has stretched her credit to the limit. The only asset she has left is the family estate which is due to be auctioned to pay off the mortgage unless she can come up with the money.
Hearing word of this, the merchant Lopakhin (Alex Harland) suggests Ranevskya can earn an income by leasing her land to the up-and-coming villa class. Harland offers a strong performance in the first half and his scenes with Francis are some of the best in the production. Sadly I was not convinced in the second half; his transition from meek serf to – spoiler alert – land owner was bumpy. His mad fit felt out of character and took me out of the performance.
Francis did a great job of keeping you invested in the performance. The pressure of being a matriarch and putting a brave face on ever worsening circumstances only deepened and improved as the show went on. A tragic hero is said to be one who fails despite their best efforts; here Ranevskya is seen to make no effort to save the cherry orchard and yet her failure is still tragic.
To balance the tragedy there is a smattering of comedy. Helen Foster plays Charlotta, the orphaned governess who was raised by German circus performers. She learned a thing or two from her adopted family and shows them off here. Foster is incredibly charming, and had the audience enraptured and in fits of giggles. In addition to her superb comic talent she showed she was equally capable of holding your attention whilst being serious. Charlotta tells you her sad life story during a monologue that stood out as one of the production’s finer moments. I am eagerly awaiting the chance to see Foster on stage again soon.
There was a strange moment towards the end of the play. The characters formed a tableaux on the stage, which was very well choreographed, and announced they would be leaving. I felt like I had suddenly started watching Waiting For Godot and it would end there. Then came that moment where the audience is just about to applaud before they were interrupted by continued action on stage. It may not be where the text officially ends but I would have been happy if that had been the curtain.
The Cherry Orchard is a play divided. It is bursting with sub-plots that distract from the main story. I use “story” loosely as very little happens, but the characters sustain your interest. The backdrop is of the old ways becoming out dated and replaced by the modern. I don’t want to level unfair criticism at Theatre Collection here but its period rendition of the play seems unaware of the irony surrounding it. It did not promise anything more but I feel the text challenges you to innovate instead of doing what has been done before.
The Cherry Orchard is playing at Lord Stanley until 17 February. For more information and tickets, see theatrecollection.net