First published in Mojo in August 2013.
ANTON Chekhov wrote The Cherry Orchard as a classic four act comedy while he was seriously ill with tuberculosis and during a period of social change in Russia.
First performed in Moscow in1904, it went on to become one of his most successful plays along with The Seagull, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters. Arguably, The Cherry Orchard is also a drama. Its themes of love, death and the inevitability of change are just as relevant to today’s audience.
In Simon Stone’s directorial debut for the MTC, he has gathered a cast of actors who clearly revel in the physicality and emotional honesty of this contemporary adaption.
Each actor is perfectly cast in their respective roles and they play off each other brilliantly and with perfect comic timing, bringing energy and believability to each scene.
It is spring as the curtain rises on the childhood nursery in Act 1. The stage is almost empty save for a basket ball hoop and a model train track which forms an infinity symbol that stretches across the front of the stage – a relic of happy childhood games and perhaps also a reference to the never ending cycle of life, death and change.
The Cherry Orchard spans a year following the return of Andreyevna Ranevsky (Pamela Rabe) after the breakup of a relationship with a young man who continues to send her love letters. Andreyevna is the matriarch of this aristocratic family and has suffered great sorrow after the loss of her child and husband years before. She and her brother Gayev (Robert Menzies) grew up on the large family estate while the townsfolk have relied on the cherry orchard for their employment.
The estate is in debt and Andreyevna and Gayev must decide whether to sell or follow the advice of Lopahkin (Steve Mouzakis) and cut down the cherry orchard to build a housing development that will yield a $3 million annual return.
Alice Babidge’s clever set design combines minimal staging and a co-ordinated use of colour, in both props and costumes, against a stark white background. The look is 1970’s and in Act 2, totem tennis is played on a perfectly manicured green lawn while Anya (Eloise Mignon) frolics in a large round wading pool. In this scene, Stone uses the auditorium to convey the grand scale of the estate.
Later in Act 3, David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ plays on the stereo during a house party which brings to a head the turmoil that has been bubbling away throughout. “When this cherry orchard goes, my memories will go with it…I need something,” Andreyevna says in deep sorrow.
The Cherry Orchard plays at MTC’s The Sumner theatre in Southbank, Melbourne, until September 25.