The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov – Druid Theatre, Galway, online
Garry Hynes’ production of The Cherry Orchard for Druid Theatre is a streaming delight. A fine cast, a strange mix of oddball characters, brings life and energy to Chekhov’s ensemble masterpiece. There are so many characters, each entirely real, that a Cherry Orchard cast have opportunities probably unrivalled in theatre. They make the most of it. From Derbhle Crotty’s Ranyevskaya, the lady of the house returned unwisely home, to Helen Norton’s Germanic companion, equipped with conjuring tricks, the characters bounce off each other from the very first moment.
The late Tom Murphy’s adaptation, performed her for the first time, refracts the Russian setting, through funny and direct Irish dialogue, making the play seem a natural fit in Galway. Francis O’Connor’s set is a stage on a stage, a dilapidated living room that conjures up an entire estate, crumbled past saving, and places the characters under a domestic proscenium arch. Hynes has highlighted the physical nature of the play, which seems full of slapstick and pratfalls, in a way that would have made sense to Samuel Beckett. The characters, all of whom are hopeless at life to a greater or lesser degree, are on a literal collision course with one another attempting, clumsily, to relate to one another but consistently getting it wrong.
There is kindness in this version of the play too, balanced against the slow motion emotional disasters. Aaron Monaghan’s Lopakhin, the son of a serf who buys the estate from the family who once owned his father, is not an avenger but a reasonable man, who wants to help people who don’t understand how to help themselves. Unfortunately, he cannot help himself either, and the endless silence as he fails to propose to Rachel Feeney’s Anya, desparately in love with him, is heartbreaking. Meanwhile Ranyevskaya has clearly sought refuge in an irresponsible Parisian life from the pain of losing her son, drowned in the river as a boy.
The show is a confident and absorbing, with performances to revel in. Alongside Crotty and Monaghan, Siobhán Cullen’s Varya, beset with worry and love for people who will never stay, stands out, but there is much to enjoy. The company performs as a unit, essential for a play with twelve characters, and gives the themes of power, ownership and social change a strong, contemporary resonance.