Review By Rosie Niven
A family in debt, an orchard on the brink of destruction, an unstoppable change. These are only a few of the things we see in Eamon Flack’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, a much-anticipated production in Belvoir’s 2021 season. How can a story from 1903 still find relevance with a contemporary audience?
Director Eamon Flack has assembled a strong cast of twelve: Pamela Rabe as the desperate matriarch Ranevskaya and Keith Robinson as her distant yet heartfelt brother Gaev head up the family unit, while daughters Varya (Nadie Kammallaweera) and Anya (Kirsty Marillier) struggle with the fraying familial ties in the light of significant change. Mandela Mathia offers financial advice to the struggling family with his peasant-turned-wealthy-businessman Lopahkin, while Josh Price’s Pishchick is constantly with his hand out, hoping to get his own family out of debt. Amongst all these narratives are the destructive and chaotic staff, played by Charles Wu (Yasha), Jack Scott (Yepikhodov), Sarah Meacham (Dunyasha), Lucia Mastrantone (Charlotta), Priscilla Doueihy (Petya) and Peter Carroll (Firs).
The actors show great skill in transitioning this work into the comedy Chekhov intended it to be: elements of slapstick, dance numbers, absurdism and a loose translation kept the audience laughing throughout much of the production. Particularly delightful is Mastrantone’s Charlotta, whose dry one-liners and eccentric behaviours light up the stage. However, a lack of cohesion in performance styles and comedic effects calls for a less heavy-handed approach from Flack.
There’s a lot to tackle in the 2 and a half hour production, and at times it is difficult to retain narrative and interpersonal clarity amidst the chaos. If you’re not familiar with The Cherry Orchard going into this production, you won’t necessarily be much more informed after leaving it. At times it felt that the complex sentiments of Chekhov were being spoon fed to the audience in a manner that was less about inferring the notion of existentialism and more about forcing a sense of hopelessness upon the audience. However, this hopelessness was not given a smooth delivery: For such complex and multifaceted characters, it was a challenge to connect with many of them. Perhaps this is due to the chaotic and overlapping storylines, or the dialogue assigned to flesh these characters out. Although the characters are meant to be cold and out of touch with reality, it was hard to empathise with many, if not all of the narratives. For a story riddled with tragedy, this posed a challenge.
It is only in the final moments that we get a taste for tragedy, stripped of its comedic flair. As the family leaves the home they’ve lost and lock the doors, the family’s butler emerges from the shadows. Realising that they’ve forgotten about him, he sits against the wall and faces his fate, as if he’d “never lived at all”. After laughing with ease for so much of the show, this moment hits the audience hard.
While there are a few jarring moments in this ambitious production, Eamon Flack’s adaptation of The Cherry Orchard is an ode to the playwright’s original intention and brought joy to those in the theatre. Depending on your affinity for Chekhov, this one’s a little divisive.
Image Credit: Brett Boardman