The Cherry Orchard
Review By Emma Shane
Let me start by saying that this is not really a review of the play; I am just describing when I went to see it. I was in my second year of University and living next-door in my Hall of Residence was Sarah Waller, a drama student and trainee theatre director, her hero is the great Adrian Noble. Consequently Sarah just has to see any show he directs, which in this case was The Cherry Orchard. I had never before seen a Checkov play. However I thought to myself "well Louise Gold is in it, so it can’t be too boring", so we went to see it. There was one thing which particularly surprised me.
First a bit about whose who the cast in order of appearance are:
Lopakhin - a business man friend of the family, with a humble background. He tries to persuade the family to develop The Cherry Orchard to pay off their debts; otherwise it will have to be sold. He is apparently in love with Varya, only he never gets round to proposing, he doesn’t really want to.
Dunyasha - a maid. She is a wild excited creature rushing here there and everywhere, and in fact practically running on and off stage. She is trying, rather unsuccessfully, to get Yasha to seduce her. I will say more about her later.
Ephihodov - a clerk.
The first act opens with Lopakhin and Dunyasha, on stage. Dunyasha is in her maid’s uniform. The family are assembling to greet Mme Ranyevskaya who is arriving back from Paris after six years absence. Anya and Charlotte have gone to Paris to meet her. Throughout this scene everyone keeps coming in and out and greeting each other, and Mme Ranyevskaya says how nice it is to be back and such like. Anya is glad to be home too, even though she’s only been away a few days. During a lull in the proceedings, when only Dunyasha and Yasha are on stage she tries to greet him, but he has some difficulty in recognising her: She is saying "Don’t you recognise me. I’m Dunyasha" (so n so) "’s daughter", eventually she sighs "Well I was only about that high when ya left,” indicating with her hands, this was an extremely convincing a reason for him not to know her, as she is a pretty big woman, 5ft 9". Although the quiet Varya is an inch taller, she was far less noticeable.
It is realised that it is the bookcases centenary, and Gaev makes a speech about this. Trofimov enters, despite having been asked to stay away until tomorrow; this causes Mme Ranyevskaya to have a crying fit about her dead son. Lopakhin puts forward his proposed scheme for The Cherry Orchard, but Mme Ranyevskaya and Gaev do not want to know, even though it is obvious that they must do something about their debts. The scene ends with Varya and Anya alone on the stage, and Anya, who is very tired, as a result of travelling falls asleep on her adopted sister’s shoulder.
Next came a scene in The Cherry Orchard itself. This was the scene which I found extremely amazing, and I will describe it in detail later.
The close of Act 1 is taken up with Mme Ranyevskaya revealing everything about her life in Paris, and her lover. There is also a plan a foot to apply to a rich Aunt for money, this was not all that successful.
Act 2 commences with the family throwing a party, on the day that The Cherry Orchard is to be auctioned to pay off their debts. Everybody is dancing. Well that is to say, Lopakhin and Gaev are absent at the auction; Mme Ranyevskaya is presumably a little old for dancing. However Anya, Varya, Trofimov and various others are all dancing, so too, in order to make up the numbers, is Dunyasha (who as usual is in her maid’s uniform) - she periodically gets sent off to get the musicians refreshments, at one point there I almost thought she was about to sing! (Well I’m rather more accustomed to musicals than Chekhov!). Somewhere in the middle of the dancing, actually while Mme Ranyevskaya was standing in the fore of the stage going on wondering what was happening at the auction, in the background, just in front of the musicians who should come dancing across the stage but Dunyasha - this was really quite amusing (Perhaps the director put it in for a bit of light relief).
Charlotte then amuses the party by performing some of her conjuring tricks.
Towards the end of the party Lopakhin and Gaev arrive and Lopakhin making his surprising announcement, he has bought The Cherry Orchard, therefore he can now carry out his plan to develop the site. The family are all a bit upset about this, but it is inevitable, and they all decide to go away.
This was really, David Troughton as, Lopakhin’s big scene, he was really excited having the time of his life, talking, laughing, dancing all over the stage. Most of the other principles were standing to the side of the stage, and so were not all that noticeable, from the audiences viewpoint. However the tall Dunyasha was standing near the centre of the stage, just in front of the musicians (at the back of the stage) and in absolutely FULL view of the audience. She was, like the rest of the cast, completely stock still; however I could not help feeling that from where she was standing the temptation to up-stage David Troughton, somewhat, by moving, however slightly, must have been enormous, for the actress concerned. (I mean if she were in a comedy, or a Musical and a situation like that arose, she would almost certainly try to up-stage)
The final scene is one of everyone packing up. It is set in the hall way and the servants, including the tall Dunyasha keep bringing in more and more boxes and piling them high. It is also a scene of trying, and generally not succeeding, in tying up the loose ends of the love plots: It has already been pretty much established that Anya and Trofimov are going off together, and she plans to get a job (I forget what doing, either teaching or secretarial work I think). Trofimov is searching wildly for his galoshes, (a bit like ‘enry ‘iggin’s slippers). Now Mme Ranyevskaya finally talks Lopakhin into proposing to Varya, she leaves them alone together, but still he never quite gets round to it. Varya is going to take up a position as housekeeper to some friends. Dunyasha makes one final last ditch attempt to get Yasha, and in fact throws herself on the floor (she’s rather good at that) at his feet, and grabs hold of his leg, begging him to take her with him, it was really awfully amusing (she’s also rather good at crawling around on the floor), quite a comic highlight. He shakes her off and she is left to serve Lopakhin, or whoever he lets the house to, anyhow she remains as a servant to the estate. The old and infirm Firs, so we are told has been sent to a hospital. However, when everyone else has left, we discover at the end of the play that he has in fact been left alone in a locked up house to die.
Now to tell you about the scene which was so extraordinary I just can’t get over it: This was the scene in The Cherry Orchard itself, but first I should just explain:
In the opening scene all the gentry were nicely dressed and, apart from Mme Ranyevskaya’s crying fit, very quiet and sedate. Indeed Varya, apart from being tall, was so quiet that she did not attract that much attention. By contrast the servants, who were all in uniform, were quicker, more excitable, and generally more noticeable. Dunyasha, in particular, is rushing about like a mad thing, in fact she was practically running on and off stage, serving coffee, and trying to greet Anya (who has only been away for a few days), saying that she’s going to faint, and that she’s got a secret to tell. She was really a very distinctive character
Then came this particular scene in The Cherry Orchard itself. There were five people present: Two men, one of whom was obviously Trofimov, I was not initially sure who the other was. There were also three women: Charlotte - who for some inexplicable reason was carrying a rifle, Anya, and a third woman who was sitting serenely on the bench wearing in a skirt and blouse, being altogether quite unnoticeable, she was so quiet calm, and dignified. This last was quite a tall woman, and I therefore assumed she must be Varya. Charlotte gave us a great monologue about herself and how she did not really know who she was, she then exited. The two men then proceeded to have a discussion on, life, love and goodness only knows what else. The other man, not Trofimov had a pistol with him, just in case he should ever want to commit suicide. This conversation got a bit boring and I found myself thinking "I wish Dunyasha would come on, she’d liven things up a bit". The other man, having put away his pistol, produced a ukulele and the two men started to sing, some kind of love song. They were two fine actors, this IS the RSC, but they were not great singers, or at least not suited to the song, (well this is a straight classical drama, and I am used to MUSICALS - where almost everybody CAN sing, and sing well) so I found myself thinking "I wish Dunyasha would come on, maybe she could sing".
I then found myself watching the actors themselves closely: I noticed that the woman sitting oh so serenely on the bench had red hair; and I thought to myself "I wonder how many of the actresses in this production have red hair?" for Mme Ranyevskaya has red hair and Dunyasha has red hair, (so presumably Varya does too). I notice this woman’s hair is similar that peculiar shade of red (This quote is from the Neil Barrtlet adaptation of Lady Into Fox), like Dunyasha’s, how I wished she’d come on, (looking at her hair, and I still didn’t get it).
Then the other man, the two men had stopped singing by this time , and were talking about love, called out
"Dunyasha, what to you think?"
I was at once alert, looking round the stage, expecting her to come rushing on in her maid’s uniform. And then it dawned on me. "Oh my goodness The woman on the bench is Dunyasha!" !!
I was, and indeed still am, completely flabbergasted. There I was wishing she would come on and she was there all the time! I had completely failed to recognise her! I almost couldn’t believe it. And such a distinctive, noticeable character too. I don’t know if it was my lack of observation (and by the way Varya had dark brownish/blackish hair, anyway not red), or her excellent acting. I suppose it might have been a mixture of both, that made me not recognise her so, but I Still can’t get over it. How could I sit through half a scene without, realising who she was, without recognising her!
But what made this really surprising was who played Dunyasha, she was, just about the one performer you’d think I would have managed to recognise, Louise Gold! !
Well after that amazing revelation I was certainly more interested in the scene, which in any case got rather more interesting. Anya and Trofimov went off together, leaving the other two; he was in fact Yasha, alone on the stage, for some scene together. Dunyasha tried to get Yasha to get her on the floor, and fact succeeded, except that in the middle of embracing her he suddenly stood up and started telling her off: trying to teach her a lesson, trying to teach her not to go chasing after men.
That’s the third production within a year which has found Louise Gold crawling around on the floor, the other two were the musicals LADY IN FOX and PANAMA HATTIE, it is quite funny to watch this tall creature on the floor.
The Cast (in order of appearance were): Lopakhin - David Troughton, Dunyasha - Louise Gold, Ephihodov - John Dougall, Firs - Peter Copley, Mme Ranyevskaya - Penelope Wilton, Anya - Emilia Fox, Varya - Kate Duchene, Charlotte - Darlene Johnson, Gaev - Alec McCowen, Semyonov-Pishchik - James Hayes, Yasha - Mark Lockyer, Trofimov - Sean Murray.
This production played: The Swan in Stratford upon Avon from (some time after 3 but before 24) October - 9 November 1996 and The Alberry London 25 November 1996 - 25 January 1997
National tour: Festival Theater Chichester 27 Jauary - 1 February, Theater Royal Nottingham 3-8 February, Theatre Royal Newcastle 10-15 February, N Wales Theatre Llanndudno 25 February - 1 March, Theatre Royal Bath 3 - 8 March, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guilford 10 - 15 March and Richmond Theatre (Surrey) 17-22 March 1997.
I saw the show while it was at The Alberry (I didn’t know at the time that the production was going to be touring, let alone that it would finish up at Richmond Theatre!