The Cherry Orchard, 3***, London

by Anton Chekhov
Adapted by Phil Willmott from a translation by Julius West.


The Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR to 7 April, 2018.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7261 9876
Review: William Russell 16 March.

Chekhov updated

Phil Willmott has taken the play, which was premiered in 1903, and updated the action to 1917. It is an interesting change. The play is a tragic comedy about a society facing change – the owners of the estate Madame Ranyevskaya and her feckless family are broke. They area are faced with having to sell it and the much loved cherry orchard to developers who will build housing estates for the bourgeoisie – unless, of course, they can borrow some cash from somewhere.
The truth is their day is over. It can be seen as an elegant heart breaking tale about a soon to vanish world engulfed in cherry blossom and silver birch trees. The passage of time has also added something Chekhov did not intend – he knew the world Ranyevskaya lived in was facing extinction, and was lamenting its passing, but he did not know what lay ahead for the owners of the estate. Modern audiences do which adds an element of tragedy to it all.

By setting it in 1917 Willmott has had to make some pretty drastic alterations – Chekhov’s insolent trespassers become Bolsheviks and everyone knows the royal family has been murdered and Lenin has taken over. It all works well enough – Willmott sees it as a Cherry Orchard for 2018 – although whether it distorts Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard too much is open to argument. I have reservations.

The cast is good, with a suitably down on her luck Ranyevskaya from Suanne Braun, a marvellously feckless brother Gaev from Richard Gibson and a splendid stoic Varya from Lakesha Cammock.
One bit of bad luck was that Robert Donald, who was playing Fiers, broke his hip before press night – instead of trying to recast the role Willmott has come up with an ingenious solution to the ending of the play which found the aged retainer abandoned by his unthinking masters in the locked up mansion, his plight saying it all about the society he served.

This is Willmott’s Cherry Orchard and none the worse for that. But he should have done something about the set which, although handsome, has one entrance in the middle of the back wall and in the second half things get cluttered up. There are several traffic jams.

Trofimov: Feliks Mathur.
Ranyevskaya: Suanne Braun.
Anya: Lucy Menzies.
Varya: Lakesha Cammock.
Gaev: Richard Gibson.
Lopakhin: Christopher Lashley.
Madame Dishchika: Caroline Wildi.
Charlotta: Emma Manton.
Yepikhodov: Alexander Heston.
Dumyat: Molly Crookes.
Fires: Robert Donald.
Kasha: Hugo Nicholson.
Egor: Jonny Rust.

Director: Phil Willmott.
Set Design: Justin Williams & Jonny Rust.
Costume Design: Penn O’Gara.
Lighting Design: Sam Waddington.
Sound Design & Composition: Theo Holloway.
Movement Director: Adam Haigh.
Assistant Directors: Justin Murray & Nicky Allpress.

2018-03-17 14:12:40

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