By Carys Svendsen
****/5 A great night out full of drama as well as a fair few laughs throughout the performance. If you’re a fan of period plays, it’s well worth seeing the play for yourself.
Having been Culture Editor for a few months now, it was quite an opportunity to be invited to The Dylan Thomas Theatre to see Swansea Little Theatre’s production of The Cherry Orchard. I have only studied one Chekhov play last year (Three Sisters) and I entered the theatre with no knowledge of The Cherry Orchard itself, with my only request being that I wouldn’t be a puddle of tears by the end of it.
The Cherry Orchard tells the tragic tale of Ranyevskaya and the selling of the family’s cherry orchard due to a lack of funds. However, the cherry orchard is so much more than just a plot of land filled with trees. The cherry orchard holds nostalgic memories for both the family and friends alike, which is under threat (although you initially believe it’s a joke) due to Lopakhin’s constant business plan of a summer house on the land. Tim Pottinger’s performance of Lopakhin was not only distinctive due to his character’s west country accent in a cast of southern English accents, but also due to his portrayal of Lopakhin being incredibly immersive and initially leading the audience to underestimate him in his business ventures. From his speeches about being a peasant (spoilers: his father was, but he certainly isn’t), to the scene where he declares that he has purchased the cherry orchard in a drunken state helped create such an emotionally charged scene that it was impossible to look away from the stage. It’s also important to mention his ‘will they won’t they’ relationship with Varya (Alison Saunders) throughout the play as you watch the two become close one second and so distant the next. The constant tension between the two was just another element to the drama on stage.
Despite the play having dramatic elements throughout, Chekhov’s original intentions of The Cherry Orchard being a comedy is seemingly fulfilled by director Jeremy Thomas. I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy Thomas and he explained that having been an audience member for a fair few renditions of The Cherry Orchard, he chose to keep the play a comedy. Characters such as Yepikhodoo (Evan Barker) and Firs (John Betts) do hilarious physical comedy as well as witty one liners throughout the play, making the characters more lovable as the play goes on.
However, this doesn’t stop the emotionally charged scenes, particularly in the final scene when you see the eviction of Ranyevskaya’s household. The house that was filled with memories has become run down like the family itself (note the damp painted onto the walls thanks to amazing set design) through the turns of tragic events such as the loss of Grisha, Ranyevskaya’s son, as well as Ranyevskaya and Anya (Ranyevsvskaya’s daughter) rushing home from Paris after Ranyevskaya being scammed out of her money from her partner at the time. Pair this with Gayev (Ranyevskaya’s brother) and his unfortunate failings in life, and you create a powerful yet heartbreaking final scene as you witness the end of an era for the family who are leaving into an uncertain future where the final sounds you hear is the chopping down of the cherry orchard.
Despite the play being a great night out, there were moments between scene changes where I found myself twiddling my thumbs. Although Thomas’ direction led to the superb use of proxemics and there was a character in every corner of the stage doing something, it was the scene changes that left me slightly disappointed. Although there weren’t too many of them, they weren’t quick and I was left a bit restless waiting for the next scene in complete silence and darkness, gearing up for the next turn of tragic events.
Overall, I highly recommend The Cherry Orchard if you’re a fan of dramas with comedic elements as well as 19th/early 20th century drama. If you’re a fan of shows such as Downtown Abbey, I’d highly recommend this play to you. However, make sure you pick up a programme before the performance- The Cherry Orchard is full of more family connections than Game of Thrones!