Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), May 29 – Jun 27, 2021
Playwright: Anton Chekhov (adapted by Eamon Flack)
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Peter Carroll, Priscilla Doueihy, Nadie Kammallaweera, Kirsty Marillier, Lucia Mastrantone, Mandela Mathia, Sarah Meacham, Josh Price, Pamela Rabe, Keith Robinson, Jack Scott, Charles Wu
Images by Brett Boardman
The Russian aristocracy as we had known them, were no longer to be, in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Members of Ranevskaya’s household scramble around, filled with anxiety at the prospect of the old world’s demise, completely at a loss as to what to expect of the future, and how to continue existing as the inevitable begins to set in.
In director Eamon Flack’s 2021 version, the power transitions that occur in The Cherry Orchard are represented not only by the idealism of our young. An unmistakeable racial dimension is introduced, with the emergence of the middle classes expressed as a parallel dialogue, about the changing status of Australia’s people of colour.
It is a valiant attempt by Flack to breathe new life into the play. Aside from successfully locating a contemporary resonance for the old tale, he replaces early twentieth century naturalistic styles with a theatrical exuberance, that makes the show more appealing to today’s compromised attention spans. The freshly sharpened farcical tone is enjoyable, as are its efforts at broadening the scope of Chekhov’s work, to be inclusive of the marginalised, such as the LGBT community, and people living with disabilities.
Actor Mandela Mathia is captivating as Lopahkin, the businessman with a recent background of peasantry. Now riding on the wave of new money rising, the Black man is confident but still humble, which Mathia portrays with admirable exactitude. It is a precise and varied performance, from one who proves as likeable as he is compelling. The old white guards are exemplified in The Cherry Orchard by Ranevskaya, slothful and ignorant, but nonetheless well-intentioned. Played by Pamela Rabe, the role is appropriately comical, with an air of deteriorating glamour that becomes progressively fragile.
Funniest in the ensemble include Lucia Mastrantone, unforgettable as the kooky governess Charlotta, and full of mischief as she invents one trick after another. Charles Wu takes a more understated approach, but is no less hilarious as the incredulously suave Yasha, complete with perfectly timed hip thrusts, almost convincing us that it might be possible to bring sexy back to Chekhov.
Set design by Romanie Harper is surprisingly stark, but its clean lines and minimal approach deliver an elegant, if slightly nondescript vista. Harper’s costumes are more imaginatively rendered, with each character’s appearance distinctly and eccentrically conceived. Lights by Nick Schlieper provide a warmth that keeps us reminded of the notion of home, that is fundamentally embedded within this narrative about power and property. Stefan Gregory’s use of eclectic music styles bring valuable energy to the work, whilst establishing a sense of indeterminacy to time and place, that allows us to connect with The Cherry Orchard in personal ways.
A little more than a century after the completion of Chekhov’s final play, we find ourselves back at a point of disgraceful wealth disparity. What may have been a hopeful forecast of a new way of life, can now be seen to be overly optimistic. There is no doubt that things have improved on many fronts, but the inordinate concentration of wealth today at the top end of town, reveals the failure of efforts to redistribute wealth, and to alleviate poverty. People might no longer wish to call themselves aristocrats and peasants, but all we have to do, is to look at all the numbers, that never lie.