The Cherry Orchard

The Royal Exchange, Manchester; Monday 30th April, 2018

 

First performed just one year before the 1905 Russian revolution, The Cherry Orchard is the last stage performance to have been created by master playwright Anton Chekhov. Eerily predicting real-world events that were soon to change the nation, the story explores the slow and torturous collapse of an empire and the subsequently painful struggle for dignity and resolution.

The empire in this case is the financial and agricultural enterprise owned by the overstretched Ranyevskaya family, whose vast estate includes a bountiful cherry orchard – a prized family asset which they are reluctantly forced to put up for sale.

Kirsty Bushell plays the lead role as the matriarchal Madame Ranevskaya – a woman haunted by the drowning of her young son many years earlier, she slowly and rather timidly gives up the fight for her beloved cherry orchard, conceding without much argument that she can’t prevent the inevitable.

Though the plot generally follows the family’s efforts to prevent the sale of their ancestral home, as a play The Cherry Orchard is all about the individual characters and their particular reactions. Much time is spent on individuals, possibly more so than the relationships between them, which is where other, similar plays would have gone.

Chekhov self-diagnosed The Cherry Orchard as a comedy, but humour is not what emerges from this performance. The mood is a lot more sombre, there is a permanent sense of tragedy – it’s there in the past, it’s happening in the present, and there is a a very ominous sense of future sorrow on the horizon for everyone involved.

The Cherry Orchard is a theatrical montage where individual characters are given time and space to react to a life-changing event. Some are winners and some are losers, the variety of reactions are exactly as you might expect from any varied family unit.

As a performance this feels perfectly adequate and acceptable without being particularly exceptional – arguably it reflects perfectly the begrudging sense of reluctant acceptance that sees the Ranevskaya family eventually lose their grip on their beloved but declining business empire.

 

Summary

Performance aspect Comments Score
Visual pleasure A set stripped back heavily with virtually no background or props, overall it felt slightly deficient, the rest of the performance failed to make up for the missing visual inputs. 1
Auditory pleasure Very minimal use of music and sound effects, stripped back but not as much as the visual elements. 2
Architecture & Theme The nature of this play (character exploration favoured over plot) requires an intimate connection to be made with the audience, it didn’t quite seem to work. The story was followable but no particularly deep or powerful connection was made with any of the characters. 2
Artistic delivery Strong performances throughout by every cast member but the sum of the parts didn’t seem to add up in any particularly coherent manner, eventually it came to feel like some connected performances being delivered on stage, rather than an organic flow of emotion and feeling. 3
Overall impact The lasting impression is that this was a thriller, with a sinister theme of loss punctuated by multiple depressive moments, most particularly the regular appearance of Madame Ranevskaya’s deceased son. Not exactly a bad play but then not particularly effective or successful as a stripped-back exploration of character. 2
Final Score: 2.0

 

Scoring Scheme

0 Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1 Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2 Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3 Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4 Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5 Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.

 

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