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The Cherry Orchard — a delicious dissection of how we deal with change

A Russian classic transformed into a contemporary Australian story.

Credit: Brett Broadman

Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, adapted by Eamon Flack, is a tale about a mother returning to her family estate after staying abroad, and facing the reality of having to sell the family’s cherry orchard to pay off their debts. Through linear, yet episodic, storytelling, the audience is given a delicious dissection of how nostalgia prevents us from embracing and initiating change in the anthropocene.

As the audience sits in the Upstairs Theatre of Belvoir, there is a feeling of suspension as they watch the story unfold — as if the world they are sitting in revolves and changes around them but not with them. This passage of time is beautifully captured by Romanie Harper’s set design of the long panoramic white curtain and wall, and Nick Schlieper’s lighting consisting of gorgeous blue, orange and purple hues to evoke the various times of the day.

A sense of existential tragedy is crafted as the characters graffiti the permanent interior green wall of their house with ephemeral chalk drawings. It highlights the human desire to leave a legacy — to mark one’s existence as pieces of their world are (literally and metaphorically) bulldozed away. 

Although its tragic elements risk the story becoming melancholic, it is wonderfully brought to life by the brilliant acting of the whole ensemble. They bring a balance of comedy and tragedy into their characters, mirroring the beautiful contradiction of family relationships. Consequently, it creates a sense of realism as each character represents a different trope, but the actors push beyond their simple stereotypes: the idealist, the mother, the sister, the uncle, the person resistant to change, the person welcome to change and all those in-between. 

In particular, Pamela Rabe’s depiction of the kind and regal, yet slightly senile and child-like, matriach Ranevskaya, as well as Charles Wu’s suave, smooth-yet-calculated and immature man-servant Yasha are noticeable highlights. 

Although the original play was written by a Russian playwright, Flack’s adaptation never feels foreign. The use of familiar vernacular makes the play seem uniquely Australian, and the inclusion of culturally-diverse, disabled and LGBTQ+ characters create a dynamic landscape that adds depth to the characters and ideas of change explored. As a result, Flack’s direction and adaptation transforms this Russian classic into a contemporary Australian story. 

Whether you’re into theatrical classics, contemporary Australian theatre, or just looking for a fun, fascinating, thought-provoking but not-too-deep show, this will be the one for you.