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A stylish adaptation of Chekhov’s Orchard

PUBLISHED: 16:51 02 April 2008 | UPDATED: 17:18 16 August 2010

OFTEN performed as a tragedy, the 1904 play The Cherry Orchard was originally intended by its author Anton Chekhov to be a comedy. A recent version at the Bob Hope Theatre, Eltham,

OFTEN performed as a tragedy, the 1904 play The Cherry Orchard was originally intended by its author Anton Chekhov to be a comedy.

A recent version at the Bob Hope Theatre, Eltham, saw director Maggi Law reinstating much of the humour of the piece, aided by Samuel Adamson's no-nonsense 2003 translation.

To this end, the antics of the elderly footman Firs, brilliantly played by Peter Law, undercut some of the heavier passages of philosophising, while Stephen Clark's clumsy Yepikhodov provided some expertly judged moments of slapstick.

Because The Cherry Orchard is so intrinsically rooted in the changing face of Russia at the turn of the last century, its social and political themes can sometimes be hard to grasp for modern audiences.

But the characters only address these themes obliquely - mostly they dwell on their own, seemingly trivial, preoccupations, rarely listening to the similarly heartfelt musings of their companions.

This makes it very hard for the actors, who are required to react, not to each other, but to their own internal reveries.

It can also be rather hard on the audience, for similar reasons.

But on the whole this was a stylish adaptation that saw a very strong cast eke out as much humour and angst from the source material as possible. (The two are entwined so strongly that they often can't be separated.)

David Sismore made the upstart manservant Yasha - the play's only proper villain - an appropriately immoral creature, while Mark Slaughter was excellent as the fey, billiards-obsessed Gaev, forever opining wistfully, and boringly, on the past.

Madame Lyubov Ranevskaya, the play's most sympathetic character, was exquisitely played by Angie Brignell (pictured).

Her sorrow at the plight of her old home, and her fears for her family's future, were movingly communicated.

Barbara Archer was very funny as the dotty German governess, and Kevin O'Donnell, Jenny Thompson, Stella Parkinson and Paul Sockett all played their roles with studied conviction. Act Two's infamous 'plucked string' effect sounded a little Goon Show, but otherwise this was a technically flawless production with a suitably sparse set designed by James Priddle and Sarah Howard.

The next show at the Bob Hope Theatre is Kismet by Charles Lederer and Luther Davies, performed by Sidcup Operatic Society from 16-19 April. For tickets, call 020 8301 2681.

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