The Cherry Orchard

Thu 29th March – Sat 5th May 2012

reviews

Ottilie Wilford

at 21:05 on 2nd May 2012

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In the wake of their hugely successful production of King Lear, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory trades playwrights for the latter part of their 2012 season. Director Andrew Hilton claims Shakespeare and Chekhov’s plays complement each other well because ‘at the centre of King Lear’s vast canvas is a family drama, so the family drama of The Cherry Orchard reaches out to universal truths about the human condition’. Sadly the similarities between these two plays does not translate into an equal standard of production. I couldn’t help but feel that SATTF should have stuck to Shakespeare.

In many ways the “in the round” stage at the Tobacco Factory is perfect for The Cherry Orchard, as it provides opportunity for naturalism because of its ample exits and entrances. However, this potential was lost on the disordered production; the cast was without the sense of coherence needed for such a large group of characters. Although a central concern of the play is the way in which people are trapped and isolated in their own fragile dreams, there should still be a sense of unity between the characters so that their reactions to one another might be relevant or at least believable, and so that the story may unfurl fluently. Hilton’s production was distinctly devoid of an overarching chemistry - essential for really engaging an audience with the myriad of interlocking storylines of a family at a monumental transition between past and future.

Perhaps its flatness can be accounted to the miscasting of one of the play’s most significant characters - Mrs Ranevsky. Julia Hills, who so perfectly played a delightfully malicious Goneril in King Lear, here somehow lacked the commanding presence this character demands. Without the charisma to enchant the other characters we are left with little reason to believe they would really put up with her abundance of flaws, particularly her incessant money-spending despite the reality of her finance. Simon Armstrong however shined as Lopakhin, casting a slightly more sympathetic light over this unfeeling businessman than how he is usually played. Indeed the performances overall were impressive, but this did not prevent what is seen as Chekhov’s best and most profound play becoming an unmoving production.

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