THE CHERRY ORCHARD
The Smoking Gun Collective, Jericho Arts Centre, until May 19th
My Two Pence
By Penny Warwick
The Smoking Gun Collective returns to the Jericho Arts Centre following a successful run of An Inspector Calls last season. Seemingly a fan of classic works, William B. Davis has chosen to take on a seminal work by Chekhov – The Cherry Orchard. For those unfamiliar with the production, it is well enough explained although lacks the depth needed to make the audience understand the importance of The Orchard, its fate, or indeed the fate of most of the characters.
I found it problematic. The original setting of the Cherry Orchard is in Russia, which evokes senses of staunch, strong formality and governance – Davis’ production feels like a sunny afternoon in a British conservatory while the guests mumble and muse something about a possible loss whilst sipping on Pimms (there was no actual Pimms). In amongst the constant to-ing and fro-ing of cast members, it is hard to get a grasp on who anyone actually is unless they are specifically introduced in a meaningful way. I still didn’t know that Yasha (Matt Loop) was a servant until the ultimate scene when he was holding a tray of champagne. There are some very interesting casting choices here, which are confounded by questionable costuming and a simply bizarre range of accents – leaving the whole thing feeling a bit disconnected. If it does not have the sense of being in Russia, if it does not have a sense of where the characters are from or what their ‘status’ is, and given a mix of wooden performances juxtaposed with (in some cases) radical melodrama and slapstick physicality, I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed and unmoved by the whole thing.
The performance by Chris Walters is the notable (and I don’t really feel this word is strong enough) exception. From his exceptionally detailed physical ticks to his balanced and grounded characterisation and delivery of lines, his portrayal of Trofimov was outstanding. He saves this show. I also appreciated the quiet unhappiness and comedic relief from Sean Anthony’s Yepikhodov.
I will not spend time here delving into the wig situation, but it is probably the worst I have seen; in design and in fitting/application.
It would be remiss to note that this play is obviously a translation, and there are many different versions and also there have been cuts made to the script which, without doubt, is not ideal for a director or the performers. It made me wonder if I should do some more researching into Chekhov, the translations, the interpretations - that being said, I don’t believe it is the job of the audience to intellectualize a performance, I think the performance should be able to be enjoyed, and understood, for what it is. Ultimately, we are supposed to feel the weight and sadness of the lack of care from the family to prevent the loss of The Orchard (which Davis tenuously links to burning fossil fuels and the damage to our planet). The problem was that I didn’t care about The Orchard. I didn’t think there was any real sense of the loss displayed by the characters, despite incresingly grand gestures of ‘sadness acting’. What I saw for the grand majority was actors in misfit costumes saying words in mish-mash accents without much feeling for what seemed like an awfully long time.