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Reflections of a working writer and reader



The Cherry Orchard

LumleyJonathan Miller makes his directorial return to British theatre with a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, and we were lucky enough to have front row seats for the performance in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre last night.

It is interesting to note that Miller decided to use a new translation of the play, which is the result of a collaboration between Tania Alexander and Pam Gems.

In Chekhov’s play, Madame Ranevskya returns from Paris as the family estate, including her beloved cherry orchard, is about to be sold to pay for mounting debts. Revelling in past glories and their extravagant lifestyle, the family ignore all offers of help. In deep denial, they refuse to see the inevitability of change.

Joanna Lumley is warm and radiant as Madame Ranevskaya, a performance it will not be easy to forget. But there are others in the cast who are not daunted by the star actress and who give stirring performances of their own.

Tom Mannion as Lopakhin, the peasant who has risen far above his station, is completely convincing. His warmth of feeling for Ranevskaya shines through his words and actions, and he is the only one who can actually offer the family some kind of hope. But when his offer of help is ignored he falls back on the hard-headed, realist solution to which he owes his material progress in the world.

Hugh Sachs is hilarious in his depiction of the lovelorn, accident-prone Yepichodov, who is droll throughout his phases of misfortune and failing luck.

Timothy Bateson is both funny and touching as the butler, Firs, though he does mistime his entrance in the final scene of the play, something that Jonathan Miller might have helped him avoid.

Tobias Menzies as the perpetual student, Trofimov, is like a cat, stalking the expanses of the stage, reaching deep within himself for answers to age-old riddles.

But the cast, including Lumley, come together in an ensemble that is merely delightful. We feel that they not only inhabit their own characters, but they respond to each other as they would if we were witnessing a slice of real historical documentary.

I played Firs in a production of The Cherry Orchard in 1977, and in the intervening thirty years I have never knowingly missed a production. I must have seen twenty different interpretations of the play, and I can say, absolutely, that the one currently on stage at The Crucible is the best.

This magnificent production continues in Sheffield until the 7th April.

5 Responses to “The Cherry Orchard”

  1. John, I once had a theatre workshop with Jonathan Miller at MDC a million years ago and I’m glad to hear that he has returned to the stage. He was brilliant, yet diffident in that thoroughly British way, and had a great sense of humor.

    Apropos of nothing, Lumley is my mother’s maiden name and I once saw a production by a South African ensemble of The Cherry Orchard at the University of Birmingham when I was on tour with my book of short stories, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien.


    jb says: Hi Geoffrey. There was an interview with Lumley in the Independent, where Miller comes in in a typically eccentric way. You might find it interesting.

  2. Dick says:

    This production sounds very special. Any chance of it travelling south, do you know, John? Joanna Lumley as Ranevskaya I would love to see. Good to know that she’s getting some decent acting done in between flogging insurance & being a Celeb. Lopakhin is a wonderful role to play – a gift for a creative actor. I directed Tobias Menzies in my final production at Frensham Heights School. He played a concentration camp commandant chillingly & I’ve followeed his career with interest ever since.

    jb says: I’ll see if I can find out where it goes after Sheffield, Dick.
    PS. Doesn’t look as though it’s going anywhere at the moment. Perhaps you have to make the trip up north?

  3. Jessica says:

    So glad you enjoyed the play. I saw it last week and all the cast were wonderful. I particularly liked Tobias Menzies as the “perpetual student” and Tom Mannion.

    jb says: Hi Jessica. Eh, wasn’t it a treat, though?

  4. RebeccaG says:

    Lovely review John and I agree with all you said. I had the pleasure of seeing it last week. Dick, Joanna said in a recent radio interview that she had plans after the short run so I dont think it can be extended.

    I would recommend the trip up to Sheffield.

    By the way Dick I’ve already seen Tobias in season 2 of Rome and he gives a wonderful performance as Brutus. His death is very memorable. He’s also due to play the first British officer to enter Belsen in a new Drama to be shown in September on Channel 4. He’s an actor to watch out for.

    jb says: Thanks, Rebecca. Yes, I’d underline that. Go see it, even if it means travelling. It’s good theatre. Hard to find, so when it comes up, don’t miss it.

  5. term says:

    About “The Cherry Orchard” are many things to say… And about “The Seagull”, or “Three Sisters” too… Chekhov was a doctor, so he was able to describe very well human nature. But you know what’s great about these plays, that they still describe our world. The characters are always complaining, doing plans, but they never really do something. So maybe that’s why Chekhov is now the 3rd most played drama writer from all times, after Shakespeare and Ionesco.