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MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘The Cherry Orchard’ by Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre

Photography by Brett Boardman.

MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘The Cherry Orchard’ by Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre

MiNDFOOD Reviews: ‘The Cherry Orchard’ by Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre

The works of the late 19th century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, although considered by many to be literary masterpieces, have also been fondly criticised as plays where “nothing happens”. His characters (often families) tend to spend a lot of time talking, and not doing much of anything; consequently modern audiences accustomed to a more lively onstage pace may at times find their attention wandering from the ‘action’.

In The Cherry Orchard, the main plot development – of a once wealthy, aristocratic family losing their ancestral home, their land and their much-admired orchard due to financial mismanagement – is foreshadowed in the first scene and is not resolved until the play’s final scenes. In between, there is bemoaning by members of the family how much they will miss their beautiful home and orchard and wondering what will become of them, alongside scenes where they are repeatedly encouraged to face up to the reality of their situation, interspersed with a few budding love affairs – none of which really reach fruition.

Photography by Brett Boardman.

For audiences used to storylines in which there is a more straightforward sequence of events in which things either end well or tragically and the loose ends are tied up, the dramedy that is The Cherry Orchard may leave one dissatisfied.

Having said that, the performances of those 12 actors comprising the cast of Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre’s current production of The Cherry Orchard – adeptly modernised to include a disabled brother, varied ethnicities and a queer love story – are uniformly excellent. This ensemble present a convincingly cohesive family – complete with the inherent teasing, criticisms and affections both natural and familiar to all, and with an added physicality from director Eamon Flack and choreographer Elle Evangelista that breathes new life into the play.

Head of the family is Lubov Ranevskaya played by Pamela Rabe (from TV’s Wentworth), who strides gloriously across the stage, newly returned to her Russian home from Paris with a glossy sweep of silver hair, chic clothing and ultra-cool sunglasses. Notwithstanding the talent of her supporting cast – playing her brother, her daughters, servants and various other hangers-on – she commands the stage with ease and further embeds her position as one of Australia’s leading character actresses.

Photography by Brett Boardman.

Fleshing out the cast is a constellation of outstanding performers including Charles Woo (from TV’s Doctor Doctor) as hilariously louche servant, Yasha; a delightfully kooky turn by Lucia Mastrantone playing Anya’s governess, Charlotta and 76-year-old acting veteran Peter Carroll as the dodderingly faithful manservant Firs who steals most scenes he appears in and is the final actor onstage as the play tragi-comically concludes.

More than a century after it was written, Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard still has pertinent things to say about the class system, capitalism, the nature of love and our questionable ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world, but more importantly on this occasion, it is an energetic and entertaining night at the theatre showcasing a rich bounty of Australian acting talent.

 

 

The Cherry Orchard

29 May – 27 June, 2021

Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney

belvoir.com.au

 

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