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Mr Monkey sees The Cherry Orchard at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 19th April 2018
End date : 19th May 2018
Visit date : 24th April 2018
Kirsty Bushell as Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya (production photo by Liam Bennett)
Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya (Kirsty Bushell) thinks about life. (Production photo by Johan Persson)
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for The Cherry Orchard
Mr Monkey looking at one of the posters for The Cherry Orchard

Mr Monkey took the 192 into Manchester, and didn't mind a bit when Mr Rik had to get off and walked through the rain when all the traffic stopped moving just before the Mancunian Way. Mr Monkey was safe and dry in Mr Rik's pocket as they scampered along to the press night of The Cherry Orchard at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

This production, co-produced by the Royal Exchange and the Bristol Old Vic, uses Rory Mullarkey's new translation of The Cherry Orchard. Mullarkey felt that previous translations of the play were too English and too serious, and set out to produce a text that reflected Chekov's description of the work as "a comedy in four acts". The production also emphasises the way in which many of the characters seem quite willing to break the fourth wall and address the audience (or, at least, talk to the room instead of the people in it).

Written in 1903, The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekov's last play. Lyubov Andreyevna Ranyevskaya is brought back from Paris by her daughter, Anya. The family estates, which include what is apparently the most famous set of cherry trees in Russia, is mortgaged to the hilt and is about to be auctioned off by the family's creditors. In theory Lyubov, her brother Leonid, Anna, and Lyubov's adopted daughter Varya are supposed to be finding a way to pay the mortgage and keep the estate but they spend most of the time talking about how wonderful everything was when they didn't have to think about money.

Yermolai Alekseyevich Lopakhin, the son of a peasant from the estate who has made good, keeps suggesting building cottages for weekend visitors from the city, but is ignored because it would involve the destruction of the cherry orchard. Yermolai also is supposed to have an understanding with Varya but neither of them are quite able to commit themselves, and he appears to be interested in Lyubov, despite the disparity in class and wealth.

The stage is a plain floorboarded space with, initially, little more than a small round table and a bookcase. Various other pieces appear later, many brought on by a small boy who apparently drowned seven years before the play started. Outdoor scenes - particularly a bright summer day - are achieved with the Exchange's impressive collection of spotlights, which can be quite painful if you're sitting in the wrong place.

The cast are excellent. Jude Osuwu's Yermolia is a self-confident, self-made, and extremely competent man but with a latent awareness of his humble birth. Kirsty Bushell shows Lyubov's irresponsiblity and superficiality, but also that it's a shield to ward off the tragedy that led her to flee to Paris. Julius D'Silva's Boris Borisovich is a marvellously optimistic scrounger, perpetually expecting someone to 'lend' him money. The rest of the comparatively large cast are all convincing, though it did take Mr Monkey a little time to work out exactly how everyone was connected.

Julius D'Silva as Boris Borisovich Simyonov-Pischik, Verity Blyth as Anya, and Jude Owusu as Yermolai Alekseyevich Lopakhin. (Production photo by Liam Bennett)
Boris Borisovich Simyonov-Pischik (Julius D'Silva) exaggerates to Anya (Verity Blyth), while Yermolai Alekseyevich Lopakhin (Jude Owusu) remains sceptical. (Production photo by Liam Bennett)

Mr Monkey enjoyed this production of The Cherry Orchard, once he got used to the endangered fourth wall. He recommends it to anyone who wants a suprisingly funny drama about life amongst the decaying minor aristocracy of pre-revolutionary Russia.

The Cherry Orchard runs until 19th May 2018.

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