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A blossoming classic at the Talisman


The Cherry Orchard, Talisman Theatre, until May 13

The Talisman has ambitiously taken on Anton Chekhov’s final masterpiece and its enterprise was rewarded by warm applause from an attentive and appreciative, if rather small, first night audience.

Written in the early 20th century, the play concerns Lyubov, a Russian landlord who returns to her family estate with its impressive cherry orchard just before it is auctioned off to pay the mortgage.

Like so much of Chekhov’s work, the story is timeless and this is reinforced by the cast wearing modern clothing.

The play was written before the Russian revolution when the old order was crumbling – and there are so many similarities to today’s uncertain world with society again in transition.

Julie-Ann Randell gives a strong performance as Lyubov , a proud aristocrat but with absolutely no head for business.

Kathy Buckingham-Hill is entertaining as Charlotta the eccentric governess, and Henri West is impressive as Peter the self-righteous, left-wing perpetual student.

However all 13 members of the cast give their own confident interpretations of Chekhov’s colourful and idiosyncratic characters and the momentum of the play is maintained throughout. The set is simple but effective, and the incidental music is atmospheric.

It was disappointing to see many empty seats at the opening night. If regular Talisman-goers were put off fearing the play might be heavy going, they missed out – the production was full of life and easy to follow.

If fans of Chekhov are concerned about an amateur group trying to pull off one of his best loved plays, I can assure them that cast and crew certainly do it justice.

Peter McGarry writes: Chekhov’s most poignant play is all about status and a changing social infrastructure. Written over 100 years ago, it resonates with issues and concerns that still underpin any society today.

This, along with its literary grandeur and penetrating characterisations, makes it a work that will never lack relevance for a modern audience. Here John Dawson directs what can be seen as a contemporary version, reflecting more of an everyman interpretation. Its people are timeless in their attitudes, emotions, weaknesses and strengths.

This impressive production has to deal with the dual nature of the play – a mix of humour and tragedy which emanates from Chekhov’s own wildly erratic personality traits during the lengthy writing of what was to be his final and possibly most popular work.

A superbly assembled cast effectively divides the various characters into Russian aristocrats and working classes to examine the fading power of the gentry against the irresistible rise of the serfs. Of course revolution was not far away, and the prescient nature of the piece is riveting.

The central figure, Lyubov, is a woman returning to her ancestral home to escape from a broken relationship and the death of her child. Julie-Ann Randell essays the part with a vitality that encompasses a defensive over-brightness and subsequent despair. A fine performance indeed.

Around her is a wealth of observant playing, notably from Molly Ives and Leigh Walker as her daughters, one spirited and optimistic, the other moody and repressed, and Colin Ritchie as a bombastic former land worker savouring his new rise to power.

There isn’t a weak link, and even if the true period mood of the Chekhov original does feel somewhat diluted, John Ellam’s atmospheric set design cleverly bridges the time factor.

An all-round triumph for the Talisman.

To book for The Cherry Orchard, go to http://www.talismantheatre.co.uk/

A

Winner!