We don’t see Chekhov’s final and most explicitly political play very often in Sydney.
Which is surprising, perhaps, given that a real estate deal lies at the heart of it.
Lyubov has recently returned from Paris. She’s flat broke. Her only remaining asset is the beloved family estate and its cherry orchard. The whole lot is about to go under the auctioneer’s hammer and someone will get it for a song.
But local businessman Lopakhin, the son of a former serf on the estate, has a proposition that, if Lyubov accepts it, might at least save the house.
Sell off the orchard, he begs her. Fell the trees and use the land to build holiday chalets.
But it’s not just present debt that has Lyubov in its grip. The orchard is a symbol of her youth and of the happy life she lived before the death of her seven-year-old son. She is paralysed by indecision. So too, by extension, is her family and the entire social class to which they belong. All are doomed by their dithering.
Adapted, directed and designed by emerging talent Victor Kalka, this is a very much shortened reading (90 minutes plus interval), one that modernises the text somewhat while remaining essentially faithful to the tone of a play written more than a century ago.
The production is a spare one. A couple of wooden chairs. An old bookcase for Gaev to marvel over. A little table for the tea service, delivered by the ancient retainer Firs. Costume is modern-casual. Kalka arranges the audience close up on three sides in what is one of the most effective uses of the Chippen Street space I’ve seen to date.
It’s a very exposed space to perform on, however. Occasional callowness and some stylistic inconsistencies within Kalka’s 12-strong ensemble are evident and this opening night performance revealed a production still feeling its way forward.
But there are some good performances to build on: from Suzann James and Martin Bell as Lyubov and her ineffectual billiards-obsessed brother Gaev; from Caitlin Williams and Dominique de Marco as Lyubov’s differing daughters Anya and Varya, and from Martin Quinn as the career student Trofimov.
And you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not feel something when the ailing Firs (Garreth Cruikshank) enters the space one last time to find that he’s been left behind like some old piece of unfashionable furniture.