Revolution and upheaval have played a major part in Phil Willmott’s season of plays at the Union Theatre this year.
For The Cherry Orchard, Willmott shifts the action of the play far closer to the Russian Revolution and in doing so, creates a fresh, more urgent take on the social upheaval of the play. The Bolsheviks are snapping at Ranyevskaya’s heels but she barely notices the bigger picture as she nurses her own private sorrows.
The rich mix of characters and the delicacy of the humour remain perfectly intact. Justin Williams and Jonny Rust’s set design once again lends depth, texture and atmosphere to the production.
There are some beautifully pitched performances. Suanne Braun is a graceful, generous Ranyevskaya, nobly refusing to face the realities of life as both her wealth and relevance slip away. Christopher Laishley lends a fresh perspective to businessman Lopakhin, articulating the changes in his fortune with remarkable clarity. The subtle shades of Chekhovian humour are highlighted by Richard Gibson as a prissy Gaev and Caroline Wildi as a gloriously cash-strapped Madame Pishinka.
Feliks Mathur too delivers a delicate balancing act as Trofimov, emotionally embroiled with the aristocracy and yet fiercely enforcing the new regime. Willmott’s adaptation may startle a few purists but in making these changes, he attempts to unravel our current, prickly relationship with Russia.