The Cherry Orchard is often described as Chekhov’s greatest play. His 1903 drama enjoyed a strong reception on first production, and its reputation has stood the test of time. This production by the Arcola Theatre, directed by Mehmet Ergen, offers a fresh interpretation of this great work, in a version by Trevor Griffiths. Iona McLeish’s set is a masterstroke: a white bookcase out of which stretch enormous white branches, emphasising the importance of the cherry orchard to the family’s history.
In the play, Madame Ranevskaya returns from Paris to her beloved estate and cherry orchard. Told that she must sell it in order to pay her debts, Lopakhin – a former serf turned successful businessman – offers her an alternative: turn the cherry orchard into holiday homes. But Ranevskaya will have none of it, and loses her chance to change the course of events.
Ultimately the play is about the end of the old world order and the beginning of the new. I’ve often thought that the play is spookily prescient in its talk of revolution, particularly in the character of the student Trofimov (Abhin Galeya). In these years before the Russian Revolution there is a profound conviction that change is coming.
As Ranevskaya, Siân Thomas is superb, while Pernille Broch and Jade Williams convince as her daughters Anya and Varya. Jude Akuwudike is extremely strong as Lophakhin, and having the character played by a black man reinforces his status as an outsider. Robin Hooper lends the character of Firs the ageing butler a sympathetic dignity.
I also liked Simon Scardifield as the clumsy Epikhodov. In fact many of the actors from the recent production of The Lower Depths are also present here. It seems highly appropriate that this domestic drama with its undercurrents of change and revolutionary ideals should close the Arcola’s Revolution season.