The Cherry Orchard
by Anton Chekhov
A new version by Samuel Adamson
Oxford Playhouse, 01-05.07.03

Chekhov intended The Cherry Orchard to be a comedy, although one tinged with more than a hint of sadness, and the comedy certainly comes through in this new adaptation by Samuel Adamson.

The basis of the play is that a once wealthy Russian lady, Lyubov Ranevskaya (Geraldine James), returns from Paris just in time to see the sale of her Russian estate, rundown by mismanagement and mounting debts. Her entourage is met by those family retainers who stayed, including her brother Gaev (Brian Protheroe) and the peasant turned tycoon Lopakhin (Trevor Fox). The plot then follows the sale of the estate, and in particular, of the Cherry Orchard - for, in a wonderfully contemporary twist, building plots for holiday homes.
The pivot around which everything revolves is Ranevskaya, and Geraldine James is in fine form as this volatile Russian woman struggling to come to terms with a three fold loss. We know first of her losing the estate, and go on to learn of her loss of a young child in an accident, and later the loss of her lover to another woman. The emotional range James presents is breathtaking, turning from joy to anger in an instant.

Much of this anger is directed at Lopakhin, who at times looks like a plank of wood dressed in a suit. Trevor Fox portrays the newly wealthy peasant splendidly. Only able to express himself in terms of business, he waxes lyrical on this topic and yet becomes hopelessly tongue-tied when he should demonstrate his deeper feelings.

This purposeful lack of expression is also found in three other male characters: Gaev, an ineffectual, overemotional fop, the accident-prone clerk Yepikhodov (a great comic turn by Michael Matus), and most splendidly by John Dougall as the blustering neighbour Pishchik - always charming, always looking for a loan.

The men find their matches in the female characters; Abigail McKern makes the most of Charlotta, a conjuring governess, Mairead McKinley is in fiery form as the housekeeper Varya, who is in love with Lopahkin, and Lucy Caskell as the flighty maid Dunyasha, playing her affections off against Yepikhodov and Ranevskaya’s footman Yasha.

Of course there must be a love story here, and we find it in the relationship between Anya, Ranevskaya’s daughter, and Trofimov, the eternal student. Perhaps these two best represent one of the aspects of the play: the search at the time for a new Russia, and the death of the old regime. This passing of a way of life is summed up throughout the play in the character of Firs, the aged butler, played by Trevor Martin, and it is only fitting that he should have the last words on stage

With uniformly excellent acting and an imaginative set, including a curtain of cherry blossom backing the stage, the Oxford Stage Company (under Dominic Dromgoole) have breathed life into this wonderful play - a fitting way to mark the centenary of its writing.

David Wootten, 02.07.03