The Cherry Orchard
Jonathan 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.