The Cherry Orchard – review

Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Andrew Hilton's annual Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory season has done it again. This vivid, superlative production of Chekhov's last play, translated by Stephen Mulrine, embraces its comedy to underscore the tragedy and does so with an exquisite sense of balance. As always with Hilton's simply staged adaptations, it's all about the timeless brilliance of the writing taking centre stage, with performances to match.

And what performances there are here, led by Julia Hills as Madame Ranevskaya, newly returned from Paris to face the sale of her Russian estate to clear her debts. Exquisitely dressed in the latest Parisian fashions, she notes how everyone she left behind has grown old – as if she herself might be immune from ageing. It's the first of the play's beautifully drawn examples of characters trapped in their own static worlds, incapable of self-knowledge. This is how we know they are all doomed, but also leads to the many laughs from bizarre interjections, misunderstandings and non-sequiturs.

Comic highlights include Roland Oliver as Simeonov-Pishchik, always sozzled, broke and happy, Saskia Portway as peculiar governess Charlotta, and Christopher Bianchi as Gaev, who speaks in torrents of nonsense. The hysterical energy of these performances amplifies the existential limbo and delusion other characters are living in, and the sense of an old order broken beyond fixing. These themes and faultless performances throughout are directed by Hilton with subtlety and precision so that, with only a few rugs and pieces of furniture on stage, we believe in the old house full of memories and the cherry orchard beyond. Because we do, the final scene is tremendously, and almost unbearably, moving.


Elisabeth Mahoney

The GuardianTramp

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