Reimagined classic absorbing, relevant

The Star reporter Brenda Harwood
By Anton Chekhov
Sahara Breeze (Sbz) Productions
Mayfair Theatre
Thursday, November 16


A modern re-imagining of Chekhov’s classic play The Cherry Orchard by Dunedin’s Sahara BreeZe (SBZ) Productions brings spectacular physical performance, original music, and multi-media together in an absorbing, entertaining production.

The Cherry Orchard is a tragi-comedy exploring the downfall of the aristocratic Russian Ranevsky family who, having fallen on hard times, return to their old estate with its wonderful cherry orchard. Despite their economic hardship, the family are incapable of cutting their spending or finding the money to pay their mortgage, so it must be auctioned off.

Directed by Blaise Barham, in an adaptation from a translation by Prof Stuart Young, this production of The Cherry Orchard features a large and committed cast, aerial performers, circus tricks and live music.

The core telling of the tale is tackled with energy and heart by a strong cast in a true ensemble, led by Sarah Barham as the aristocratic landowner Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevskaya and Cheyne Jenkinson as son-of-serfs businessman Yermolay Alekseyevich Lopakhin who grows increasingly frustrated as his attempts to help her fall on deaf ears.

Surrounding them are competing forces of family — played by Becky Hodson, Aimee Freeman and Matthew Brennan; friends — played by Brent Caldwell and Josh Black and servants — played by Sofie Welvaert, Daniel McClymont, Bronson Togill and Imogen Duncan.

All work together with local musician Sam Meikle and singer Clare Lewis, to create a sense of heightened emotion, the lure of memory, hysteria and denial, as the family embark on foolish schemes and parties while their fate hangs in the balance.

Aerial artists Rochelle Brophy and Dylan Woods add to the spectacle of the show with gymnastic displays of artistry on the silks, representing the spirit of the cherry orchard and the family’s flights of fancy.

Clever use of audiovisual projections, close-ups of the actors’ faces in moments of tenderness and despair, and film clips of life in the estate and its grounds, all add to the immersive feel of this imaginative adaptation of The Cherry Orchard.

A simple, yet adaptive set by Peter King, evocative modern costumes by Linda Brewster, lighting by Tabitha Littlejohn and a busy backstage crew led by stage manager Christine Ward all make a valuable contribution to the production’s overall success.

All in all, SBZ Productions’ adaptation of The Cherry Orchard is an impressive achievement, with visual and emotional impact to enhance a tale that remains relevant in today’s straitened economic times.

Performances of The Cherry Orchard continue at The Mayfair until Saturday.