Updated: Nov 5, 2022
Anton Chekhov, reimagined by Vinay Patel
Home, Manchester, Yard Theatre and English Touring Theatre
November 2-19, 2022
"Re-imagined" is putting it mildly as a description of Vinay Patel’s new adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard.
Gone is the decaying Russian country house and gone is the 19th Century. The characters, who are recognisable from their Chekhovian avatars, are South Asian cosmonauts living out their lives in a spaceship heading who knows where. These lives are tedious and boring, and whereas Chekhov’s people have only a normal span to endure, these men and women inhabit eternity.
The difference is that when an opportunity appears to offer them a new world that looks habitable, there is little ambivalence about exploring it. The enthusiasm that the perpetual student and the Captain’s youngest daughter have for this change is taken seriously – not qualified, as it is in Chekhov. This presumably is the point of the South Asian casting, to imply that theirs is a culture more optimistic than the elegant desuetude of the West. But as the captain (Anjali Jay) shows in a beautifully louche portrayal, this has also infected South Asia. The role of Feroze, the old servant wedded to the old regime who is left alone in the redundant spaceship, is played by Hari Mackinnon in a way that emphasises the point.
But Patel’s script is not so clear as his dominant message. For this viewer at least, the defamiliarising effect of setting the action in a spaceship leads him into excessive enthusiasm for sci-fi detail. Chekhov’s realism enables us to see the decadent plight of his characters and that they are all on a journey to nowhere – whereas Patel’s allegorical style simplifies the action. The setting too, replete with lights, screens and a revolve, seems cluttered.
Nonetheless it is a brave rethinking of Chekhov’s original, which brings a serous challenge to its audience.
The show is also notable for James Macdonald’s direction. Macdonald’s early career was partly spent in Manchester and it is good to see his work here again.
As always his direction is characterised by great clarity, especially from his actors, and here Tripti Tripuraneni is especially impressive as Varshi, the no-nonsense though put-upon sister. There is a subtlety in her performance despite the vigour of her character.
The show is strongly acted throughout by a clearly committed cast.
Info and tickets here