Mayfair Theatre, Dunedin
Thursday, November 16
REVIEWED BY BARBARA FRAME
At the Mayfair, anyone expecting a traditionally naturalistic staging of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is in for a surprise.
Blaise Barham, directing the play for SBS Productions, has taken a fresh approach, finding the play’s potentially comic aspects and emphasising them without undue exaggeration. Movement, co-ordination and colour are important and there are elements of pantomime and absurdity. Music and dance (including some impressive aerial work by Rochelle Brophy and Dylan Woods) enhance these elements, yet the play’s tragic side is by no means neglected.
On the personal level, most characters are afflicted by vague, misdirected or unreturned romantic yearnings; rational decision-making seems to be beyond the reach of almost everyone except Lopakhin, the family friend and adviser who is also a property developer with big plans for the orchard, if he can acquire it.
Underpinning all of this is a wider story: the orchard is emblematic of a privileged and happier past, about to be overtaken by a pragmatic and egalitarian but unappealing future. The decision to stage the play in modern dress emphasises the contemporary relevance of its themes.
There are 15 performers and six backstage crew who supplement crowd scenes — too many to mention individually here, but all performances are highly accomplished. Special mention must be made of Sarah Barham as Ranevskaya, the landowner seemingly unable to help herself; Matthew Brennan as her equally impractical brother Gayev; and Cheyne Jenkinson as Lopakhin.
Music is provided by Sam Meikle and Clare Lewis. Peter King’s set, consisting largely of movable panels and projected images and Tabitha Littlejohn’s lighting design, complement each other and the play’s tone and action perfectly.
I do have one tiny quibble: not every word was clearly audible in my seat in the centre of the theatre. Overall, though, this is an audacious, inventive and enjoyable production, well worth supporting.