The Cherry Orchard review – pungent and urgent Irish take on Chekhov

Black Box, Galway
Contemporary themes resonate throughout Garry Hynes’s production about a debt-ridden aristocratic family on the brink of losing their estate

Something in the sombre mood of Druid Theatre Company’s production of Anton Chekhov’s last play seems attuned to current environmental and political preoccupations. From the importance of planting trees rather than chopping them down, to the urgent need for housing in Ireland, contemporary themes resonate deliberately throughout Garry Hynes’s production, without being hammered home. Her direction respects Chekhov’s own reluctance to be didactic about the debt-ridden aristocratic family of Madame Ranevskaya (Derbhle Crotty), on the brink of losing their rural Russian estate as the old order crumbles.

In a colloquial, at times almost blunt, adaptation by the late Irish playwright Tom Murphy the dialogue has extra pungency, with the land developer Lopakhin (Aaron Monaghan) referring to himself as “a pig’s snout in a pastry shop”.

Summer night’s revel ... Derbhle Crotty and Garrett Lombard in The Cherry Orchard.
Summer night’s revel ... Derbhle Crotty and Garrett Lombard in The Cherry Orchard. Photograph: Robbie Jack

Reminding Ranevskaya and her brother Gayev (Rory Nolan) that the auction of their family home is looming, this son of a serf is rueful rather than grasping. He is incredulous that they wilfully ignore his advice to sell their beloved estate and cherry orchard to build holiday homes. His characterisation here, along with Nolan’s endearingly bumbling Gayev, is generous, even compassionate. Likewise, Ranevskaya is sympathetically portrayed by Crotty as a woman on the run from past grief and present pain; having lost her husband who “died of champagne”, and her young son, she is trapped in an abusive relationship.

Francis O’Connor’s vast set with high ceilings forms a series of elegant vistas, with a proscenium stage-within-a-stage created by a framed red velvet curtain. What’s gained in stateliness is lost a little in intimacy, while the slow pace of the opening act adds to an initial distancing effect. Act three’s party scene is where it all fizzes: in a summer night’s revel, the marvellous ensemble of 19 actors whirl across the stage in a scene of abandon that is as much Murphy as Chekhov. Crotty’s Ranevskaya is at her most magnetic too, spinning on her heels with zealous student Peter (Marty Rea), who can’t wait for the “higher truth” to come. Later she clings to Gayev, the two of them like lost children, bewildered and scared, as everything changes around them.

• At Black Box, Galway, until 7 March. Then at Bord Gáis Energy theatre, Dublin, 8-11 April.


Helen Meany

The GuardianTramp

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