The Cherry Orchard
Sherman Theatre, Cardiff
Tuesday 17th October 2017
After some operatic Russian treats, we’ve pondered who would rise up and tackle one of their great theatrical masters? Sherman heard the call and this is where this new Cherry Orchard blossoms.
The powerhouse of director Rachel O’Riordan and writer Gary Owen is now acclaimed. Whilst Sherman may make a habit of blowing their own horn, the flattery is just. Put simply, the dynamic between the two artists makes for great theatre.
This classic play by Anton Chekhov has been transmogrified by Owen into an absorbing Welsh soap opera, set in Pembrokeshire. Whilst the Russian writer has a reputation for dryness and being static, this new take breathes new life into the play. Many students have the burden of studying his Three Sisters, when really they should all be tackling The Cherry Orchard.
It’s a long one at three hours, yet its story has a tendency to grip. We are in the witness of Bloomfield, a family estate, now in decline. The children of Rainey have gathered to try and deal with this sorry state of affairs, since their mother left in a booze-filled haze, after two shocking bereavements, one after the other. The daughters Anya and Valerie, who are not very close, must come together and put things right. Whilst certainly it can be intense when the characters turn on one another, the barbed remarks of Rainey are particually delicious highlights. It’s a family on the brink that could possibly be saved by local lad Lewis, who has now formed a relationship with Valerie, much to the dismay of her mum.
The set by Kenny Miller is a large white square facing the audience. Through this, we see the actors in a blocking system that is well formed and poised. Kevin Treacy’s lighting establishes the mood of discontent, blazing so much more than the Welsh coast it depicts. The sound design of Simon Slater is both subtle and sublime. At times you question if you are even hearing any synths, a la Lynchian sound work.
Acting wise, this is some of Wales’ best theatrical talent. Denise Black is alarming and vampish in her depiction of Rainey, a sorry state of affairs who has let alcohol consume her life, even if she won’t sign to save the house. Simon Armstrong is Gabriel her brother and is for most of the play a bit in the way, though does have some amusing comments and reactions. Lewis is performed by Matthew Bulgo, a well-formed take on a sympathetic character who is perhaps the only stable one in the house, even if his shaky upbringing is used against him frequently by Rainey.
Morfydd Clark plays the student Anya. The youngest of the sisters, Clark plays the role with a delicacy and with young vigour. Librarian-like Valerie from Hedydd Dylan is a sensible and frustrated interpretation of the character, who never really seemed to develop a lasting relationship with her mum. Because of this, Valerie’s loyalty to her mother and the house, is evident throughout the entire play. Stealing the show was Alexandria Riley, as the maid Dottie.
Wth a cheeky Welsh accent and a real sense of play, she keeps the house standing and it not would be the same without her. Riley is matter of fact, never for a moment putting up with anyone’s ignorance, snobbery or rudeness. It’s a delight to see her in this and Cardiff audiences are keen to see her again very soon.
Richard Mylan is Ceri, a communist rocker reuniting with Anya in moments that would be forced even for a 80s film. His acting is convincing as the young fellow, but it lacks bite. Not forced, but somewhat variable to the other odd characters who are present. He gets some good laughs, Ceri is written as little more than a nostalgic caricature throw back to the New Romantic era. An overuse of music from the time also made the audience jump in its loudness and also felt clunky in its undesired usage.
For those up for this Russian revaluation of Chekhov should go and watch.
Alive with friction & a great achievement.
All images by Mark Douet
Archive – Review: Iphigenia in Splott (Read TheSprout’s review of Gary Owen’s highly acclaimed play)
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