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Credit Peter Mould

Cherries, chairs, and complexity

Elizabeth Allen reviews the recent production of The Cherry Orchard at The Stables Theatre directed by Frances Viner.

Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is a slippery play, mood and even genre shifting within the same scene: farce and frivolity jostle with pain and loss. While asking us to reflect on  the big issues (what gives value to life? What meaning do we give to the loss of the orchard’s beauty?) it engages us not only with the complexities and histories of the central pair, the landowner and the peasant boy turned affluent businessman who is about to buy her out, but also with the concerns of each of the twelve named characters, including those whom another dramatist might treat as marginal. As directed by Frances Viner at the Stables theatre this sense of a vulnerable interdependence is strong.

The production offers two strong central performances from Rachel McCarron’s Ranyevskya, all manic, neurotic energy and poignant loss, and Max Hastings as Lopakhin, the peasant boy turned successful business man, whose considerable stage presence shows us not an unimaginative boor but a man confused and conflicted. Around them swirl the pain and needs of family, friends, servants.

In a single speech by Charlotta the governess (Sally Ann Lycett), with her fairground childhood, her longing to know who she is, have someone to listen to her story, Chekhov offers enough material for a novel. The characters boast, weep, bump into the furniture, confide, agonise over the future of society. These lives are intermeshed. What will happen to them when the curtain closes on the abandoned house and Firs, the forgotten ancient retainer (Anne Edwards)?

Unexpectedly, my strongest memory of the production is of chairs. True to the ensemble nature of the production, all actors remained on stage throughout, seated at the edges when not involved in the action. At the beginning of the play Varya (Lise Boucon), angry, yearning for the proposal from Lopakhin which never materialises, places a number of chairs centre stage. In their near constant shifts, we are given a physical sense of relationships: closeness and intimacy, distance and indifference. And the scene which opens the play’s the second half, the ball with its music and dancing, was here presented as a game of musical chairs, the players in paper party-hats fashioned on stage,  parading, flirting, searching for that necessary space, dropping exhausted. Leaving us with the question: in this world coming into being as the trees in the cherry orchard fall, who will be left without a chair, without a means of living?

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Posted 12:25 Saturday, Apr 27, 2024 In: Performance

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