The Cherry Orchard
Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth, until Saturday (May13)
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
Chekhov’s most poignant play is all about status and a changing social infrastructure. Written over 100 years ago, it resonates with issues and concerns that still underpin any society today.
This, along with its literary grandeur and penetrating characterisations, makes it a work that will never lack relevance for a modern audience.
Here John Dawson directs what can be seen as a contemporary version. Not modernised as a total concept, but reflecting more of an everyman interpretation. Its people, in varying garbs, are timeless in their attitudes, emotions, weaknesses and strengths.
Equally, this impressive production has to cater for the dual nature of the play – a mix of humour and tragedy which emanates from Anton Chekhov’s own wildly erratic personality traits during the lengthy writing of what was to be his final and possibly most popular theatrical endeavour.
A superbly assembled cast effectively divides the various characters into Russian aristocrats and working classes to examine the fading power of the gentry against the irresistible rise of the serfs. In reality, revolution was not far away and the prescient nature of the piece is ultimately riveting.
The central figure, Lyubov, is a woman returning to her ancestral home to escape from a broken relationship and the death of her child. Julie-Ann Randell essays the part with a vitality that encompasses a defensive over-brightness and subsequent despair. A fine performance indeed.
Around her is a wealth of observant playing, notably from Molly Ives and Leigh Walker as her contrasting daughters, one spirited and optimistic, the other moody and repressed, and Colin Ritchie as a bombastic former land worker savouring his new rise to power.
There isn’t a weak link and even if the true period mood of the Chekhov original does feel somewhat diluted by this version, John Ellam’s atmospheric set design cleverly bridges the time factor.
This is an all-round triumph for the Talisman.