This year Kronos Theatre has brought a completely new translation of The Cherry Orchard to the Edinburgh festival. Playing at C Aquila it captures the pain and confusion of the ‘Richmans’, the once-wealthy aristocratic family having to face the sale of their family home to pay their debts. It also tries to bring out the moments of comedy in Chekhov’s play.
Making the setting the 1980s rather than the 1900s was an inspired decision, the conflicts in Britain at that time being analogous to those in Russia in the early 20th century. Cut to a fringe-friendly length of an hour the play is approachable and is a valuable introduction to Chekhov. Black walls and a few props are all that is needed on stage as the play comes alive through its dialogue. Hannah Polonsky, Frankie Parham, Olga Zabotkina and Megan Sullivan are to be congratulated on their new free-flowing translation. The soundscape created for the production by James Watkins has a depth that really works well to suggests birds, partying or car arrivals happening off-stage.
Structured as four vignettes across one summer, we see the difficulty in doing the right thing, the challenge in moving on and realising how to act for the best. What seems obvious to one person is never as clear-cut to someone else and very different reactions to changing circumstances are revealed. The play is difficult in that it requires a modern audience to sympathise with a tumbling aristocratic regime that was only wealthy owing to a highly unfair distribution of assets. Seeing that come to an end would normally cause cheers from a Western audience. But the actors are sympathetic enough to allow us to see the aristocrats as human beings and experience their pain.
Amongst the actors Henry Yorke’s Leonard is a particular pleasure to observe. The bumbling delivery of Leonard’s lines is spot on and his frequent mental return to billiards at moments of stress is well played. Softly spoken and softly footed he conveys the confusion that the aristocrats feel. The world is changing and they cannot understand what is happening.
Alfie is a member of the new middle classes. He has been financially successful and tried to buy the life that he envied when younger, but that has blinded him to the women who love him. His energy has been directed towards making money. Most people in the play are in differing states of unhappy love but there seem no answers to this widespread malaise
Chekhov and Morrissey aren’t obvious partners, but The Smiths singer features in the opening and closing music. ‘Goodbye House forever!’ he croons as the audience filed out afterwards showing that the Eighties had produced the same sentiments as the early 1900s.
Roman Eagle Lodge,