The Cherry Orchard

November 1996

by Anton Chekhov, directed by John Marshall


Ranyevskaya (Lyuba), a landowner - Maggie Butt

Anya, her daughter - Kate Onyett

Varya, her adopted daughter - Bridget Bellenberg

Gayer (Lenya), Ranyevskaya's brother - Keith Palmer

Lopakhin (Yermolay), a businessman - Peter King

Trofimov (Petya), a student - Mark Wardle

Simeonov-Pishchik, a landowner - Stewart Price

Charlotte lvanovna, the governess - Holly Shakespeare

Yepikhodov, the estate clerk - Cass Thorne

Dunyasha, the chambermaid - Rose Gander

Firs, the old footman - Brian Bowker

Yasha, the young footman - Sam Pascoe

A passer-by - Gordon Halliday

Production Team:

Director - John Marshall

Production Co-ordination and Publicity - Paul Harrington & Eric Hume

Wardrobe - Isla Morgan

Properties, Hats and Hair Care - Claire Girvan

Set Construction - Barry Hook

Lighting - Keith Palmer & Barry Matthews

Prompt - Mary Jones

Front of House - Maureen Whitt and helpers

Sound Effects - Nigel Albright

Backcloth - Louise Belanger


From Estuary News:

John Marshall is to be congratulated....

This was the fourth Cherry Orchard I had visited. Familiarity can be a disadvantage in assessing and analysing audience reaction. This review is a distillation of the opinions of three friends, including a former professional actress, with whom I discussed the progress of the play at the interval, and three others at lunch a week later.

Sad to say, their first reaction was one of bewilderment. The play opened with a conversation between a man and a woman. They were Lopakhin, the catalyst of the drama, and Dunyasha, the chambermaid, who wore no costume to indicate who she was. My previous knowledge told me who they were; my friends had no idea and spent some time working out a problem of identity. The reason for the bewilderment was the serious and unaccountable absence of 'Cast in order of appearance'. It was not until most of the other characters entered that the problem was gradually solved; the play then gathered momentum and full audience attention.

The costumes were excellent and helped to reveal identity and personality but there was carelessness about certain details. There was doubt about a presentable young man in country casuals who took part confidently in general conversation. Who was he? Improbably, he turned out to be a young footman. Later in the play he confounded the mystery of his identity by wearing a white tie with tails instead of the orthodox servant's black.

We can now concentrate on the many virtues of the production. All the characters understood their parts and spoke their lines well. They were well grouped and organised, with a tendency to congestion on a bench. The players knew when and how to stand still. Lopakhin very subtly revealed his background as the son of recently emancipated serfs in the estate and his understandable ambition to buy the orchard and marry into the social entourage as a vindication of his new freedom and power. This was a difficult and complex part, well played. Ranyevskaya and her brother Gayev successfully revealed their personalities which went a long way to explaining the bankruptcy of the estate. Gayev popped enough fruit drops into his mouth and mimed billiard strokes often enough to be amusing but not boring. Charlotta was an attractive and colourful governess and performed her conjuring tricks with vivacity and aplomb. Her pupils did her credit. Anya and Vanya were attractive and had clear-cut personalities. Trofimov, the student, had converted Anya to the revolutionary ideas circulating in Russia at that time. He spoke his near-nonsense with clarity and enough variety of tone to make it tolerable. (In a performance I saw in Russia his verbal convolutions were treated as the equivalent of Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister, and greeted with loud laughter.)

The logistics were efficiently managed. At the back of the stage an ingenious period window opened on to a pleasant view of orchard trees. Music was unassertive and allowed to reach a crescendo for a brief but refreshing dance in which the stationmaster showed his vitality. It was, all in all, a well directed, competent cast. It would be invidious to discriminate. As Ouida said in her novel 'All the crew rowed hard and fast, none harder or faster than stroke'. Lopakhin was obviously stroke. Offstage and behind the scenes everything worked efficiently and the audience, after the initial bewilderment, clearly enjoyed the experience. For amateurs to produce a play by Chekhov is an act of courage. So much of the drama lies in the tensions, frustrations, ambition and disappointments that the Director faces a real challenge. John Marshall is to be congratulated.

At the end of the play most of the characters have left the stage, some to Paris, Lopakhin presumably to arrange a contract with a timber merchant and advertise logs for sale.

There remains Firs the old footman. To me he is the most interesting character in the play. At times he seemed to have a near-death experience, at others he made remarks of deep shrewdness and understanding. He seems a Russian Merlin. When they have cleared away the timber, will they find the bones of an old serf or will his spirit inhabit an eternal Cherry Orchard, as an 'ancient of Days'?

- Reviewed by: James Smeall