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The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov, translated by Elisaveta Fen
Galleon Theatre Company
Greenwich Playhouse
(2010)

Production photo by Robert Gooch

2010 is a big year: the Greenwich Playhouse turns fifteen, the Galleon Theatre Company turns twenty and it is 150 years since Anton Chekhov was born. What better way to celebrate this triad of anniversaries than in this glorious staging of The Cherry Orchard?

The Greenwich Playhouse may be small physically, but as the saying goes, good things come in small packages. The Galleon Theatre Company really understand that above all it is actors who are the heart of any theatrical machine and the company reject the all too often mantra of spectacle over substance. The set consists of a chaise longue, a chair and a table: less is more.

The intimate space means that no actor can escape the audience's gaze, with Bruce Jamieson's direction ensuring that no matter which seat you sit in, you will receive a grand performance. The close proximity of the actor/audience relationship means that every facial expression can be enjoyed and nothing of the actor's craft is lost in this slick production. Jamieson brings out the many comic aspects of the piece, acknowledging the fact that Chekhov had intended The Cherry Orchard as a comedy before Stanislavski got his directorial hands on it and turned it into a tragedy; much laughter arises from wonderful comic business with some rather squeaky shoes and a dog on wheels.

Over the past couple of years the theatrical community has bemoaned the lack of good plays for women, but The Cherry Orchard provides such a vehicle. There is no weak actress in this production, with Maggie Daniels truly relishing her role, making Ranyevskaia eccentric, tender and at times brash as she tries to cope with the impending loss of her beloved cherry orchard and mourns the loss of that which she once had.

It is hard to believe that Clare McMahon only recently graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama as she treads the boards like an old pro, giving an effortless performance as Ania. Other strong performances come from Suzanne Goldberg as Varia and Fleur Shepherd as Dooniasha.

This translation of Chekhov's classic by Elisaveta Fen renders the piece accessible to a contemporary audience, whilst retaining an air of nineteenth century Russia about it. In many ways this is a timely production, with a general election just around the corner echoing The Cherry Orchard's sense of change and the dawn of a new era.

One can't help but draw comparisons between The Cherry Orchard, The Galleon Theatre Company and the Greenwich Playhouse. With the programme notes highlighting that the latter two organisations receive 'no funding and suffer constant financial hardship', they echo the plight of Ranyevskaia. Producer Alice de Sousa writes that 'the local authority's ill conceived arts policy' is partly to blame, alongside the 'ever increasing cost of producing high quality theatre'. Poor Ranyevskaia had to sell her cherry orchard, which was then torn down to make way for villas. Let's hope that both theatre and company don't suffer the same fate, otherwise the theatrical community will have yet another devastating loss to mourn.

Playing until 25th April 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen