13th September 2022 at The Yard Theatre, London
Reviewer: Emma Dorfman
Vinay Patel’s daring reimagining of The Cherry Orchard brings a newfound urgency to Anton Chekhov’s original. With the help of Rosie Elnile’s inspired set design, Lewis den Hertog’s dystopic video design, and James Macdonald’s clipped, contained direction assisted by several standout performances, new questions emerge about concepts of home, futurity, and what it means to finally “arrive.”
As Captain Prema Ramesh (Anjali Jay) and her daughter, Anju (Samar Khan) return to their ship after five years spent in “the void,” Anju’s sister, Varsha (Tripti Tripuraneni) shows off the card trick she has been perfecting all this time: “Heh, she still hasn’t figured out the middle bit,” Abinash (Maanuv Thiara), a Downdecker, chimes in. She knows the end and the beginning, but she can never quite figure out the middle bit. Likewise, Captain Ramesh’s crew knows “The Destination” and the story of their “Ancestors,” but the crew on this spaceship remains stuck in the past.
Rosie Elnile’s scenography helps clarify this, as we see a spaceship that is just slightly in disrepair: white tufted panels that are slightly stained, faded metallic accents—all elements that provide the same sense of futurity that much of the architecture from the ’70s promised. Feroze (played by the very talented Hari Mackinnon) is the ship’s attendant and robot in need of many updates. But it has come to the point where his system cannot handle any updates.
Similarly, the video monitors glitch often to signify the dissociation between this world’s envisioned future and its present. The opening moment, for instance, offers a look at the cherry orchard through the screen. It quickly flits away from this and back to the boundless outer space. To the cherry orchard, to the void.
It is time for the ship and its crew to move on, but where? The irony in their sense of loss is that there has always been a “Destination.” However, no one has dared yet to seriously chase it. The cherry orchard, when set in outer space, takes on an entirely new meaning. Patel has maintained all of the class structures that are familiar in Chekhov’s original, using the Downdeckers as a substitute for Russia’s serfs.
But now, the cherry orchard is even more of a marvel. It is proof that nature, beauty, and light can exist in outer space. It is a symbol of hope for these crew members who have only known space and have yet to meet an inhabitable planet. When the cherry orchard is destroyed, it is all the more bittersweet, bringing both lost hope and new beginnings.
Elevating Chekhov’s original text is the quick focus provided by both the director, James Macdonald, and the cast. The first act is particularly strong, for we move from moment to moment, scene to scene, with scarcely any time to spare. This highlights the urgency that I personally feel was left out in much of Chekhov’s original work.
Because of the pacing, in fact, you hardly realise the show runs for nearly three hours. To me, this was the only drawback of the production. With all of Patel’s radical changes, I would expect he would be keen to fix Chekhov’s “multiple ending” problem. And yet, the problem remains as we say goodbye to Captain Ramesh and Lohit, Anju and Talwar, Panchal and Divya, Abinash and Varsha, and finally, Feroze. Like Chekhov’s original, all loose ends are left tied up. I, for one, think I would still be okay if just a few were untied.
The Cherry Orchard plays The Yard Theatre, London until October 22nd 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.