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A Timeless Classic Beautifully Performed

Anya (Elle Cowan), Madame Ranyevskya (Penelope Sandle Keynes), Varya (Lily Skinner). Photo © Patrick Baldwin.

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov, directed by Colin Lewis Edwards.

The Bear Pit Theatre company, Rother Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Performance dates 24 -28 October 2023

Review by Maxine Burns.

If the author himself and the play’s first director couldn’t agree on the genre of The Cherry Orchard, then I’m certainly not going to describe the play by Anton Chekhov as a comedy or a tragedy.

The Russian writer thought of this - his final play, written between 1901-1903 as a comedy. Its full title was ‘The Cherry Orchard: A Comedy in Four Acts. Anton Chekhov complained that the first director Konstantin Stanislavski at the original Moscow Art Theatre’s production “ruined it” by describing it as a tragedy. I can only suggest you book your tickets for the performance at The Bear Pit, Stratford, between now and 28 October and make up your own mind. However you define it, you won't be disappointed.

Madame Ranyevskya (Penelope Sandle Keynes) and Simeonov-Pishchik (Kevin Hand). Photo © Patrick Baldwin.

This timeless masterpiece follows the fortunes, or in this case misfortunes, of an aristocratic family living in complete denial of the catastrophic change in their circumstances, and the imminent destruction of their class – in Russia at least. They are living on borrowed time and borrowed money, served by serfs – slaves in fact, whose ancestors have been with the family for generations. They stay even though this practise has been abolished throughout the Russian Empire, simply because they have nowhere else to go. With no money or land, only hardship awaits them in the harsh world of Russia, beyond the family walls.

Anya (Elle Cowan) and Trofimov (Jake Leon Paul). Photo © Patrick Baldwin.

Both family and servants are devastated by the fact that the ancestral home must be sold in a forthcoming auction, along with the ancient cherry orchard, which is to be decimated in favour of holiday homes. Suggestions from lower class family members and servants, as to what might be done to reverse their fortunes, fall on deaf ears and the family parties its way to an inevitable end.

The theatre makes good use of the large screen for added background effects and there are excellent performances by every member of the cast, with special mention to Penelope Sandle Keynes who plays Madame Ranyevskya; her daughters Anya (Elle Cowan) and Varya (Lily Skinner); Lopakhin (Christopher Dobson) who is blind to Varya’s love for him, and aware only of his plans for the cherry orchard; the unusual entertainer Charlotta Ivanovna played by Viv Tomlinson, and a special mention to Firs, the loyal servant of the house played by Danny Masewicz.

Gayev (Anthony Homer) and Madame Ranyevskya (Penelope Sandle Keynes). Photo © Patrick Baldwin.

We leave as the family is moving out and into an unknown future, as Russia slowly tips to the brink of anarchy and beyond, into a time which will see the end of aristocratic families forever - and to the sounds of axe meeting wood as the cherry orchard faces its destiny.

This classic play, performed by a cast of extremely talented actors is highly recommended.


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