Tag Archives: Sean Mathias

The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard

★★★★

Theatre Royal Windsor

The Cherry Orchard

The Cherry Orchard

Theatre Royal Windsor

Reviewed – 14th October 2021

★★★★

 

“The sheer magic of this production is the beguiling mix of melancholy and madness; of manners and mannerisms”

 

The original intention of Chekhov was for “The Cherry Orchard” to be a comedy; yet when it was first staged in 1904 at the Moscow Art Theatre, the writer/director Constantin Stanislavski turned it into a tragedy. If not distressed, Chekhov was very irritated by the misrepresentation of his work. Enough to put him in a mild state of depression. Ever since, there has been much discussion on the multi-layered nature of the play’s message.

Sean Mathias’ production at Theatre Royal, Windsor knows which side of the fence it lies and undoubtedly remains true to Chekhov’s intentions. With the help of a stellar cast the humour of the piece shines through and is maintained throughout the overly long two and a half hours running time. This is no mean feat, given that the characters themselves are generally not the comic type. Yet the wonderful ensemble cast bring out the flaws and the foolishness; the childishness in a seemingly mature group of people. It’s a kind of coming-of-age story for those who have already long come of age.

Fresh from the demands of his trail-blazing and age-defying Hamlet, Sir Ian McKellen is taking a step back, trying to blend into the background as the elderly servant Firs. There is a danger of his cameo becoming the lead but his generosity and sheer attention to the detail of how his character fits into the narrative lead to what is both a show-stealing performance, yet allowing his fellow actors to plunder as much as they can. Robert Daws is an absolute delight as the cash strapped moocher, overflowing with optimism and drunken charm and bouncing off Martin Shaw’s more successful but less confident Lopakhin. Shaw skilfully managed to mix a self-conscious awareness of Lopakhin’s peasant background with a cocksure sense of his own right to cut the privileged down to size (and ultimately cut down their beloved cherry orchard).

Francesca Annis, as Ranyevskaya the owner of the estate, swoops onto the stage majestically. No stranger to personal tragedy, she still seems clothed in waves of happiness. Yet Annis has the skill to show us the many tears and gashes that are covered up. The childlike way she greets her furniture as affectionately as her family is simultaneously ridiculous and tender. Her mix of tragedy and comedy is most (there’s only one way to put it) Chekhovian. But the minor characters also manage to have a major effect. Missy Malek and Kezrena James as the two sisters; and Alis Wyn Davies as the maid, Dunyasha, are names to look out for. Alison Halstead gives a fireball of a performance as the circus performer, trickster come governess, Charlotte. The only one who doesn’t quite seem to grasp the sense of fun that can be had with these characters is Jenny Seagrove, who plays the brother Gaev with a touch too much seriousness and lack of colour.

This is a piece that focuses on the characters and their interactions more than the story. After all, not an awful lot happens. In Act One, the cherry orchard is in danger of being sold, in Act Two it is on the verge of being sold, in Act Three it is sold, and in Act Four it has been sold. The sheer magic of this production is the beguiling mix of melancholy and madness; of manners and mannerisms and rambling lives that are just about keeping afloat. Much to relate to. There is tragedy everywhere, but we don’t always want to focus on that. This show, led by the inimitable McKellen et al, encompasses Chekhov’s spirit and lets us laugh at the seriousness of it all. Even if only for a couple of hours, but it is worth every minute.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Jack Merriman

 

The Cherry Orchard

Theatre Royal Windsor until 13th November

 

Other four star reviews this year:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Animal Farm | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | May 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Ginger Johnson & Pals | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
Romeo and Juliet | ★★★★ | Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Be More Chill | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | July 2021
Copenhagen | ★★★★ | Cambridge Arts Theatre | July 2021
Gin Craze | ★★★★ | Royal & Derngate | July 2021
Lava | ★★★★ | Bush Theatre | July 2021
My Night With Reg | ★★★★ | The Turbine Theatre | July 2021
Pippin | ★★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | July 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | Palace Theatre | July 2021
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | August 2021
Constellations | ★★★★ | Vaudeville Theatre | August 2021
Jersey Boys | ★★★★ | Trafalgar Theatre | August 2021
The Rice Krispie Killer | ★★★★ | Lion and Unicorn Theatre | August 2021
Fever Pitch | ★★★★ | Hope Theatre | September 2021
Myra Dubois: Dead Funny | ★★★★ | Garrick Theatre | September 2021
Catching Comets | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | September 2021
Back To The Future | ★★★★ | Adelphi Theatre | October 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | Orange Tree Theatre | October 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Gently Down the Stream
★★★★★

Park Theatre

Gently Down the Stream

Gently Down the Stream

Park Theatre

Reviewed – 17th February 2019

★★★★★

 

“deeply personal, yet universal; beautifully crafted, yet natural and full of love”

 

There are some extraordinary theatrical experiences that move you so much that you want everybody to share them. This is one of them. Gently Down the Stream is written from the heart with such genuine feeling and soul that it gets inside you, taking you on a journey full of laughter, tears and hopeful joy.

Martin Sherman wanted to write a play that looked at the changes in gay lifestyle during his lifetime, but couldn’t figure out how to go about it until, one day when shopping for groceries, he got the idea of setting the story around an intergenerational relationship. The play takes place in West London over a thirteen year period, from 2001 to 2014, starting at the beginning of the relationship between sixty two year old Beau and twenty-eight year old Rufus. Rufus’ desire to learn about Beau’s life and his experiences on the gay scene take the audience on a voyage from New Orleans, where he grew up, through New York, Paris and London, from the forties on. As the love between Beau and Rufus develops they deal with their own personal demons, against the background of memory and history, until Harry arrives in their lives and changes everything.

Sherman says “I would write about a generation of gay men – my generation – that was brought up to believe they weren’t allowed to love, who now had to deal with a young generation that had no doubt but that they had every right to love.” His writing is deeply personal, yet universal; beautifully crafted, yet natural and full of love.

Jonathan Hyde’s Beau is touching and very funny. Beau’s life story takes us through iconic moments in gay history and intensely personal memories, and Hyde thoroughly inhabits the role. If his accent seems, at times, to slip, it doesn’t matter. He is outstandingly real and believable. Rufus is played by Ben Allen with energy and charm. He breathes new life into Beau, showing him new possibilities as he learns about the past. Harry Lawtey brings humour and a delightful freshness to the role of Harry, changing the relationship between Beau and Rufus, and opening the way for other kinds of love.

Director Sean Mathias is a long term friend of the writer, and he has worked with Sherman and his cast to produce an unforgettable piece of theatre. The set, designed by Lee Newby, is a living room with a stairs leading to an upper hallway, a perfect home for Beau, giving a sense of his character through his furniture and possessions. Jamie Platt’s lighting and Lex Kosanke’s sound design meld together, adding to the atmospheric background of the play.

Gently Down the Stream is an important piece of work that tells a story that we need to know. A story of how gay men have come from a world where their lives and loves were illegal, to a world where they can marry and raise children together. There is still homophobia, there are still battles to be won, but this journey through a history that includes Stonewall and AIDS, is a triumphant one. In this play, that is universal and deeply personal, Beau, Rufus and Harry show us how love has many forms, and is at the heart of a life well lived.

 

Reviewed by Katre

Photography by Marc Brenner

 


Gently Down the Stream

Park Theatre until 16th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Other Place | ★★★ | September 2018
And Before I Forget I Love You, I Love You | ★★★★ | October 2018
Dangerous Giant Animals | ★★★ | October 2018
Honour | ★★★ | October 2018
A Pupil | ★★★★ | November 2018
Dialektikon | ★★★½ | December 2018
Peter Pan | ★★★★ | December 2018
Rosenbaum’s Rescue | ★★★★★ | January 2019
The Dame | ★★★★ | January 2019
My Dad’s Gap Year | ★★½ | February 2019

 

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