I’ll be trustworthy: I needed to verify the date to verify it wasn’t April 1st once I first examine this co-production between The Yard, English Touring Theatre and HOME Manchester. I imply, a model of Chekhov’s basic play however set on an interplanetary craft hurtling by outer area, and staged by a director (James Macdonald) with sufficient Royal Court, National Theatre and West End credit to choke a cart horse…absolutely this needed to be a wind-up, sure?
Well, really, no. In truth, playwright Vinay Patel’s “re-imagining”, weird as it’s, proves surprisingly profitable at attending to the tragic comedy on the coronary heart of Chekhov’s masterpiece. Patel additionally finds some ingenious options to the problem of remodeling a narrative about seismic social change in a rustic on the point of revolution right into a playful futuristic comedy thriller by which the only surviving people are space-travelling South Asians. Majestic however impractical, land-owning aristocrat Ranevskaya turns into beguiling however out-of-touch starship Captain Prema Ramesh, newly returned to the ship with daughter Anju (Anya within the Chekhov piece) from a reconnaissance shuttle mission to view a black gap, as you do, and looking out for a planet to settle the rest of humanity upon.
The debtors and rebellious serfs that underpin the top of Ranevskaya’s lifetime of opulent privilege right here turn into “the downdeckers”, lowlier crew members decided to flee from the ship to a liveable close by planet. The sense of outdated world constructions crumbling to make approach for brighter, extra egalitarian prospects retains some efficiency when couched when it comes to downtrodden idealists newly commandeering a fragile, outmoded vessel whose techniques are beginning to fail. Macdonald’s manufacturing suggests a really actual sense of impending dread but additionally of the ennui of lives endlessly closeted collectively because the ship sails inexorably on.
A specific grasp stroke is popping historical manservant Firs (right here renamed Feroze, performed with a captivating combination of dead-eyed automation and determined melancholy by Hari Mackinnon) right into a malfunctioning robotic winding down at an alarming price whereas nonetheless making an attempt to seem helpful. The dedication by creatives and solid to the overriding idea cannot be faulted, even when in the end it does not actually illuminate the unique Chekhov in any important or revelatory approach. It’s fulfilling and fairly attention-grabbing, nevertheless it merely looks like dressing.
Furthermore, I’m undecided if it is budgetary constraints or the concept the spaceship is on its final legs, however there is a slight whiff of cult TV collection Blakes Seven at its tackiest about Rosie Elnile’s perpetually revolving set. Audibility is typically a difficulty too, with the fixed machine-like thrum of Max Pappenheim’s sound design often drowning out the naturalistic line deliveries.
Several of the solid would acquit themselves equally effectively in a extra typical model of The Cherry Orchard: Anjali Jay is an uncharacteristically youthful Ranevskaya/Ramesh however exquisitely captures her mixture of imperiousness, vulnerability and charisma, and Aaron Gill is poignantly humorous because the absurd, lovelorn Sailesh (Yepikhodov to Chekhov fanatics). Samar Khan’s fresh-faced Anju, harder than she first seems, is completely convincing. By combining the 2 roles of Ranevskaya’s spikily sad adopted daughter Varya and the eccentric, card-trick-performing governess Charlotte into one, Patel has created a peach of an element. Tripti Tripuraneni invests this Varsha with sardonic wit and a sorrowful watchfulness that’s extraordinarily affecting and is a quietly magnetic presence all through.
This unconventional tackle The Cherry Orchard could not essentially add something to our comprehension of the unique however neither does it ever tip over into the unintentionally humorous, which it appeared, on paper, as if it’d. In truth, it is the competition that, for all their existential angst, Chekhov’s performs are primarily comedies, that’s most persuasively demonstrated right here. But that is comedy with a coronary heart, a eager mind, and a lump in its throat. Highly unique if not revelatory.