The Stirling University Drama Society has done a fantastic job yet again, this time bringing forth their production of The Cherry Orchard – the final play published by the celebrated Russian playwright Anton Chekhov which premiered in 1904.
The play – which was initially written as a comedy, and which reflected shadows of Chekhov’s own life – instantly became adapted in Russia as tragedy, and has henceforth provided a fascinating theatrical battle between the interpretation of irony and the misfortunes of life.
The play opens in the early hours of morning amidst the rural Russian estate of the elite Ranevskaya (played by Megan Milne), who has been living with her French lover in Paris for five years, following the drowning of her young son.
After receiving news that she had tried to kill herself, Ranevskaya’s 17-year-old daughter Anya (Bronwyn O’Neill) travels to fetch her mother and bring her home in hopes of soothing her broken soul.
But all is not well, for when Ranevskaya returns with her rather childish, and naive brother Gayev (Stuart Cormack), they find that their financial state is in such despair that they must sell their estate in order to pay off their debts.
However, there is some hope, as Lopankhin (Rowan MacAskill), a peculiar family friend, comes forth to advise them that the entire state need not be sold, but the land where the famous cherry orchard sits could be cut down to make way for cottages, whilst the remainder stays intact.
But Ranevskaya’s heart breaks at such a thought – she cannot bear to be taken away from her beloved cherry orchard.
As she buries her head and cries for her tainted past and her uncertain future, a wonderful array of whimsical characters step upon the stage, not merely to entertain, but to give life to the ever changing face of their homeland.
Ranevskaya symbolises the good-hearted of her kind, but also reflects the ignorant and carefree class who squander and play then cry and mutter confusion when their riches and privileges are stripped away.
Megan Milne did a wonderful job in portraying the insecurity and inner torment of this complex character.
The wildly compelling Lopankhin was managed well by the passionate performance of Rowan MacAskill, who embodied the instability of a changing class. Lopankhin’s father and grandfather had been serfs before the mass emancipation of 1861.
Since then Lopankhin has risen from slavery and poverty to become a well-read, extremely rich businessman. He fights for respect amongst the upper classes, but falls due to their refusal to recognise his position, due to his own crude words and behaviours, thus revealing his unrefined origins.
The character of Petya Trofimov (Calum Moore) represents with beauty the rise of the intellectual class, who debated the out-dated ways and authoritarian tyranny of Russia. He stands as an emblem of those who possess intellect and ambition, but who also lack the drive or true bravery to seek out their initiative.
Lewis Bunning, perhaps one of the Drama Society’s most gifted and versatile actors, gives a stunning performance as Firs.
The casual passer-by who interrupts and insults the Gayev family as they laze around outdoors one day, symbolises the intrusion of new ideologies and social movements that infringed on the aristocracy’s peace and security in Russia during its early years of change.
Lewis Bunning, perhaps one of the Drama Society’s most gifted and versatile actors, gives a stunning performance as Firs. An elderly and senile servant, he is locked away in a love of the past, and yearns for the tragically false old ways when he believed that Russia was a proud nation, and the masters and servants lived in harmony.
So as the play develops, the audience waits in anticipation to discover the fates of the captivating characters and how their futures will be shaped by a Russia who is taking its adventurous steps into the dawn of a rapidly evolving age.
The play is a wonderful visual and literary reminder of the fears of life and the obscure people who stagger in and out of our own chapters.
The scenes explore the dense history of Russia that was not only a source of turbulence for the characters, but was close to Chekhov’s own heart as he watched the country he loved fight its way amongst the thorny brambles of progress.
Considering that Chekhov died in 1904, perhaps his mind had foreseen the eye of the storm that Russia was either walking blindly or purposefully into, and had based his characters on more than his present understanding of society, but in a people that were to become more savagely defined in years to come.
So as the final minutes elapse amongst the house’s nursery, which echoes the central helpless and infantile natures of so many of the characters.
Firs wanders into the dark room, only to discover that the family have left without him and boarded him inside the abandoned house to die.
He lies down on the couch and resigns himself to death, thus signifying the passing away of an aged nation which has given way under the strain of an early post-modern reality.
In the final moments as the audience breathes in the emotional silence, one could hear the rustling of the cherry tree outside, always reminding us of the fragility of life.
The Stirling University Drama Society’s powerful performance of this unsettling tale explicitly bowed down in submission to the ever changing seasons of life and our futile inability to stop the invincible and withering hands of time.
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