A classic story that has had a revamp by playwright Rory Mullarkey, creating an honest, truthful and comical new translation of Anton Chekhov’s final masterpiece of a play.
Being tailor made for the Bristol Old Vic’s Year of Change? Season and now embarking on a national tour, Mullarkey’s remastering brings elements of the script and themes to the present day and creates a more emotional response from the audience than seen in previous translations.
By mashing up classic plays and The Royal Exchange’s love of brand new theatre, this production’s non-traditional casting, use of physical, symbolic theatre and even breaking the fourth wall captures the audience’s attention and drives the somewhat sometimes quite dry script along.
What this Chekhov plays is not short of light comedy, sadness, and tension, as the audience witnesses the changing financial situation of a middle-class family. An apparent state of denial is evident between all of them, but the time it takes to realize this is different for each character.
Gracing the stage as the slightly manic Madam Ranyevskaya is the luminous Kirsty Bushell, whose character hides her head in the sand when it comes to money. It’s when she realizes that she has nothing that she makes the audience hold their breathe and steals they empathy so such a strong character in a weak moment.
Striding onto the stage is the every-so dapper Lopakhin, played by a confident Jude Owusu, who is determined to rescue the damsel in distress that is Madam Ranyevskaya. However, as the story unfolds, and Lopakhin’s inner self is revealed, he starts to turn friends away in an attempt to “save the Cherry Orchard.” Ironically, he buys a mansion where he ancestors were slaves – by using non-traditional casting, the issue is even more hard-hitting.
Even though not written in the script, Michael Boyd’s decision to include a young child to represent the dead son was emotional. By using the young boy to change the scenery, be involved in the action but always on watching and walking around, like a ghost haunting a house.
The light was brilliant, and Colin Grenfell’s design was wonderful and made the grand space of the Exchange feel like the sun was shining in.
A minimal set with lots of props emphasized the fact that the family’s wealth was dramatically smaller. But with an empty stage, it left the actors to tell the story and showcased their ability as talented actors.
A regular theatregoer might put off going to see a Chekhov production just because it’s usually quite dry and requires a lot of concentration. I don’t think I have laughed so much at a Chekhov production before – the small moments where it catches your breath is the reason that I will be coming back to see it again. A game changer in traditional productions.
The Cherry Orchard is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until May 19th, and information on how to book can be found here.