Theatre Review – The Cherry Orchard

April 19, 2010 | By | Reply More

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Matthew Pidgeon & Maureen Beattie in The Cherry Orchard, Royal Lyceum Theatre. Photo Alan McCredie

Royal Lyceum Theatre

By Thom Dibdin

Uprooted from its original time and place, John Byrne’s new version of Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard transplants the action to Scotland in 1979, on the eve of Thatcher’s first term in office.

It’s a move which leaves Chekhov’s orchard still growing, but transformed.

The trees cross the landscape in lines that are true – but it feels as if the political contours of the Seventies have been altered to fit the regimentation of the orchard, rather than the trees planted so as to fit the landscape.

There’s a lot more that is right about the play and production than there is wrong, however. Byrne succeeds in finding the comic power of Chekhov and although it is sometimes overplayed under Tony Cownie’s direction, it is the laugh-out-loud comedy in the play which makes the tragedy of it seem all the more heartfelt.

Maureen Beattie creates a strong, nuanced character as once-wealthy landowner Mrs Ramsay-Mackay, surrounded by parasitic male admirers and ineffectual but hard-working women. She has returned to her family’s country estate after five years abroad mourning the death of her husband and young son, only to find that with debts spiralling out of control, the house and much-loved cherry orchard are to be sold.

There is no mistaking the origins of Malcolm McCracken, Andy Clark’s strong but not-quite believable grocer’s lad made good. Under Mrs Ramsay’s spell, this child of Thatcher is ignored by the toffs – even though he holds the key to the family’s survival, if they will only sell him the cherry orchard for housing.

Of the large supporting cast, Matthew Pidgeon as the dead son’s former tutor, Trotter, an Oxford dropout, stands out for the way he brings the script to life. Amid scenes that can begin to lag, Pidgeon’s exchanges with Beattie are electric.

Ralph Riach creates a very real sense of the importance of the family home, of its previous permanence, as the old retainer, Fintry. He dodders about, muttering in a manner which is comedy gold but also gives this old family a human face, one with which you can empathise as the family passes away.

John Ramage as local landowner Wishart, always short of a bob or two, and Philip Bird as Guy, Mrs Ramsay’s older brother, both add some depth to their somewhat comic roles.

It is in the daughters, Mhairi (Lesley Hart) and Ainsley (Hannah Donaldson), that the production is most exposed.

Despite strongly physical performances both are too quiet, becoming overpowered by the slightest background noise.

What niggles in the production is its over-nostalgic memory of the late Seventies. What makes you sit up is the scenery, which makes great use of the Lyceum’s revolve stage.

If this is an uneven Cherry Orchard, its blossoms are fair enough and its fruit has enough contemporary relevance to make it well worth seeing.

…And the review from The Stage

The Cherry Orchard

By Thom Dibdin

John Byrne has transplanted his Cherry Orchard to 1979 Scotland for the Royal Lyceum. It’s a move that allows director Tony Cownie to play the comedy up nicely – although sometimes it is a tad too overblown – allowing the true tragedy to come into focus.

More forced is Byrne’s grafting-on of the political events of that year. It works in historical terms – Britain emerged from the winter of discontent to a general election and Thatcher’s Tory government – but while the reminder might be timely, it is too clunky in the way it hammers in the parallels to this year’s election … Continue reading the review in the Stage

Run continues to Saturday 8 May 2010

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