Phil Willmott’s new version of Anton Chekhov’s final masterpiece, ‘The Cherry Orchard’, is set in 1917 just as the Tsarist regime topples and the Bolsheviks seize power. Originally set in 1904, this new setting only goes to strengthen the relevance of the class issues in society today. As Trofimov, a Bolshevik student played by Feliks Mathur, argues about equality for the working class and Russia as a whole; it could easily have been someone arguing about the inequality in the UK 2018.
With simplistic staging, this was a true ensemble piece, filled with three dimensional characters who each have to deal with their own reckoning and how they will fit in with the new world. A love triangle between Dunyasha Molly Crookes, Yyepikhodov Alexander Huetson, and Yasha Hugo Nicholson provides much comedy as Yyepikhodov pines for Dunyasha, who loves Yasha, who only loves himself.
The frivolity and genuine pride of Ranyevskaya Suanne Braun coupled with her grief for her late son and betrayal of her lover in Paris makes for a stellar performance. Braun, the central character, goes on a journey down memory lane when returning to ‘The Cherry Orchard’, however unwilling to change, she stubbornly accepts her fate knowing that she will never have a place in new Russia fleeing back to Paris where she will live out her days on the Countess’ money.
Gaev, Ranyevskaya’s elder brother, played by Richard Gibson, is the epitome of old money. Giving a speech celebrating the bookcase’s jubilee and with constant ramblings, Gaev becomes more and more confused with the present Russia.
He is by no fault of his own, privileged and entitled, and not only can’t adapt to a new way of thinking- but even when Lopakhin played by Christopher Laishley, the grandson of a serf, offers assistance- he sneers at him and doesn’t even consider this as a real possibility. Yet, the audience still feel sorry for Gaev, because he is an elderly gentleman, who as the man of the house, believes that he should be able to look after his family- but not only is it all ripped away from him but he gets left behind and forgotten at the end. This is a clear metaphor that time is running out for the privileged classes as they are being left behind to make way for the revolution and ‘new Russia’.
This is a story of survival, those who are willing to adapt and change their way of thinking, like Anya innocently played by Lucy Menzies, will have a future. Those who are stuck in their way of thinking, like Ranyevskaya and Gaev, will ultimately get left behind. A genuine joy to watch, this piece sparks the Bolshevik in all and shouts out a real call to action. The direct relevance to issues in society today, makes Chekhov’s masterpiece, even more current and timeless.