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The Cherry Orchard review at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff – ‘gently heartbreaking’

Simon Armstrong and Hedydd Dylan in the Cherry Orchard at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Photo: Mark Douet Simon Armstrong and Hedydd Dylan in the Cherry Orchard at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. Photo: Mark Douet

Gary Owen’s new version of Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is a gloriously inventive reimagining that wrings the grief from the original, transforming it into a gently heartbreaking study of landscape and loss.

Owen relocates the play to an indebted estate on the Pembrokeshire coast. With Margaret Thatcher recently placed in charge, this is a Britain where leather-jacked anarchists rub up against Laura Ashley-wearing toffs.

As Rainey, the returning mother, Denise Black is a stumbling, drunken and broken woman. Black’s great success lies in revealing the sorrow underwriting Rainey’s bitterness and cruelty. In contrast, Alexandria Riley as housekeeper Dottie provides comic relief and pragmatism. Her stoicism and humour are the kind born from necessity, the result of literally not being able to afford to grieve.

Kenny Miller’s pine-and-tapestry kitchen set could be lifted straight from a Country Living double-page spread. Yet Kevin Treacy’s unnatural lighting – seaside blues swimming into custard yellow – sets everything off-kilter. The dominant sound by Simon Slater is also unexpected: the roar of the waves, not the famous chopping of the trees.

Owen has collaborated with director Rachel O’Riordan on on Iphigenia in Splott and Killology and they make a formidable team. With recounted memories of drowned loved ones that occur disconcertingly quickly after wine-soaked banter, the production is tonally similar to Connor McPherson’s The Weir – which O’Riordan directed in 2016. It’s a painfully beautiful portrait of the homes we leave and the ghosts that remain.

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Gary Owen’s inventive recalibration of Chekhov exposes the grief of a family possessed by its past