Review: The Cherry Orchard (New Theatre)

newtheatreVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 26 – May 28, 2016
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by David Mamet)
Director: Clemence Williams
Cast: Alex Bryant-Smith, Sarah Chadwick, Finn Davis, Miranda Daughtry, Bella Debbage, Jasper Garner Gore, Brett Heath, Cecilia Morrow, Nicholas Papademetriou, Eliza Scott, Josephine Starte, Sam Trotman, Benjamin Vickers
Photography © Bob Seary

Theatre review
Ranevskaya is at the brink of losing her family estate. She is understandably distressed but does nothing to prevent the worst from happening. All her people go about their usual petty business, unable to find ways to remedy the situation. In David Mamet’s adaptation, the aristocracy’s complacency is a representation of lives not irrelevant to how we live today, especially in our era of unprecedented wealth. Our fearless leader very famously said not too long ago that “there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian,” indeed we are a nation that finds itself in possession of so much, yet we are no longer known to be a progressive people; we are stuck in old ways, overrun by new waves of conservatism.

It is a big cast of characters in The Cherry Orchard, and in this case, depicted by individuals with diverse strengths that never seem to find cohesion. They all tell their own stories, but insufficient attention is paid to appropriate tensions for its central concerns to engage. The show is often a confusion of personalities and intentions that never become interesting, and we find ourselves left struggling to make sense of who these people are and what they are trying to say. It is acceptable that plays can involve portrayals about the meaninglessness of existence, but they should at least find a point and drive it through with some level of conviction. Nevertheless, it is a good looking presentation, with Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set and costumes bringing to the stage an air of wealth and decadence, and Benjamin Brockman’s lights providing structure to sequences that would otherwise bleed into one another with little rhyme or reason. It must be noted however, that the use of sound is counter-intuitive and completely confounding in the way it works against the emotions and energies that actors try to harness. Even though pleasantly performed, the music is almost always a bothersome distraction.

Firs is the very old servant, senile but charming, played memorably by Nicholas Papademetriou who, with accidental irony, brings the most lively presence to a lustreless experience. His decay symbolises the dismantling of the old Russian order, but also serves as reflection on how we think of the poor today. Although at the very bottom of the pecking order, Firs had felt part of the family and was reliant on their care all his life, but eventually finds himself forgotten and abandoned. His plight is a poignant indictment of Australian society today, where we seek to diminish the indispensable ones who prop up the rich and the glorious. We continually find ways to redistribute money away from the have nots, blissfully unaware of the damage caused by advanced capitalism, but as the roots are left to rot away, it is only a matter of time before the magnificent plantation begins to crumble.