John Byrne has transplanted his Cherry Orchard to 1979 Scotland for the Royal Lyceum. It’s a move that allows director Tony Cownie to play the comedy up nicely - although sometimes it is a tad too overblown - allowing the true tragedy to come into focus.
Lesley Hart, Maureen Beattie and Hannah Donaldson in The Cherry Orchard at Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh Photo: Alan McCredie
More forced is Byrne’s grafting-on of the political events of that year. It works in historical terms - Britain emerged from the winter of discontent to a general election and Thatcher’s Tory government - but while the reminder might be timely, it is too clunky in the way it hammers in the parallels to this year’s election.
At the play’s heart, Maureen Beattie is superb as Mrs Ramsay-Mackay, returning to the ancestral home and cherry orchard after five years away. She has a masterly and entirely appropriate way of drawing in to the action or excluding entirely the parasitic men - Philip Bird’s war-damaged Guy Ramsay, John Ramage’s enthralled landowner Wishart, John Kielty’s drunken secretary, Cluny Roach and Matthew Pidgeon’s strong, convincing Trotter.
Andy Clark’ pushy and knowing Malcolm McCracken is a strong creation and well-nuanced, but it is his told ‘grocer’s boy made good’ background rather than the revealed feelings for Mrs Ramsay which makes his Thatcher parallels convince. Ralph Riach is brilliant as decrepit old retainer Fintry, but is undone by others overplaying the comedy, leaving the audience in titters at his tragic end.
The production suffers in performance terms with Hannah Donaldson’s young daughter Ainsley and Lesley Hart’s older, sensible daughter, Mhairi. Both struggle with the naturalism of their lines, although both have some stunning, emotional scenes.
Michael Taylor’s revolve set is brilliantly conceived and constructed. Less convincing is the whole production’s cartoon memory of the late seventies Britain, epitomised by Myra McFadyen’s ill-conceived, punky governess, Charlotte.