The Cherry Orchard at Milton Court Theatre review ***

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The Cherry Orchard

Milton Court Theatre, 17th October 2017

I have remarked before on the attractions of the Guildhall School final year productions. Lovely venue, clear interpretations which eschew directorial licence, and the chance to see some potential future stars of stage and screen.

I must say these students are an extraordinarily attractive bunch. I guess an acting factory isn’t that interested in churning out fat uglies like yours truly. Shame since people are a diverse lot. As our leading British thespians bear witness too. This also highlights the other caveat which I would raise about these productions. Obviously if everyone on stage is in their twenties those tasked with playing the more mature characters are presented with a challenge that the age appropriate characters are spared. I have to say though that overall, the entire cast performed admirably, especially in the second half, though for me the standout performances came from Georgina Beedle as Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya and Mhairi Gayer as Anya.

The Chekhovian symphony always takes a little time to build as we embrace the characters, both in terms of their individual psychologies, and what they stand for in pre-Revolution Russian society. Director Christian Burgess let each of the actors find their voices without rushing things, which softened some of the slightly uneven casting. This was Tom Stoppard’s translation. Since Chekhov pervades a great deal of his own work it is no surprise that it hits the spot. Any playwright worth his or her salt will take a shot at adapting Chekhov but some are more sympathetic than others. This production (designed by Polly Sullivan) was as historically specific as it is possible to get – ushankas, birch trees, even a samovar I think. A complete contrast to the current Sherman Theatre interpretation from Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan which sounds terrific. I see too that Mike Bartlett is not averse to infusing his latest (great) play Albion with the spirit of the Cherry Orchard, both directly in terms of plot and also through the character of Audrey Walters, (Victoria Hamilton turns in one of the best performances of the year – just see it).

For of course there are always plenty of themes in Chekhov’s plays that resonate with today’s world. That is generally because there is just a lot in Chekhov’s plays full stop. Regret about an imagined past is a powerful driver of society in the present and that applies throughout human written history (I may have made that up but you get the point). These regrets and disappointments are played out through the personal, and always with a wry humour in the background.

Overall then a fine production. Not the best you will ever see, but that is unsurprising. And the two actors I mention above have a bright future ahead of them. Mind you, what do I know.

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