The Very Cherry Project (ARC Acting Studio)
Christ Church Milton
September 28 – October 2
Everything is bathed in cherry red lighting as we enter Milton’s Christ Church for ARC Acting Studio’s production (of sorts) of Anton Chekhov’s final work. It’s not just the aesthetics that place us firmly in the esteemed playwright’s “The Cherry Orchard”, however. “All Russia is our orchard” Trofimov says to Anya in reveal of the cherry orchard’s symbolism of the past. Indeed, the theme of the effects of social change remains at the forefront of the show’s messaging, despite its unique presentation style.
“The Very Cherry Project”, which has been adapted, designed and directed by Michael Beh, features the talents of two ensembles, the Seniors Ensemble for people over 60 and the ARC Professional Training Ensemble of emerging artists, presenting refractions of the play, with words and scenes reimagined, revisioned, re-languaged and reappropriated to different characters. The experimental approach, however, which sees repeat of lines and scene snippets by other actors means that some familiarity with the complex story’s dramatisation of the socio-economic forces in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, is helpful.
The tale is of an aristocratic Russian landowner who returns to her family estate (which includes a large and well-known cherry orchard) just before it is auctioned to pay the mortgage, only to allow its sale to the son of a former serf, but, it is also about a large group of characters who have a relationship with the titular orchard. This gives us many diverse and uniquely-flawed characters and the performers are magnificent in their characterisation of these. In particular, Stephanie Williams is vibrant as the attention seeking housemaid Dunyasha, while Jack Dakin brings some David Bowie swagger to the idealistic student Trofimov. And members of the Seniors ensemble are like a Greek chorus of sorts in support of the main action, sometimes even drawing their own focus as they sit as servants on the cherry orchard estate watching the action of characters from their upstairs world, before taking it in turn to contribute to the commentary on the dream-shattering effects of the country’s mass emancipation upon aristocrats and former slavery serfs alike.
A lavish attention to aesthetic detail delights from the very first scene, with the principal cast heeling about in fabulously opulent costumes of lush red and purple fabrics upon fabrics. And even if some conversations occur outside of spotlight sections and the blurred lines of realism result in some strange on-stage occurrences, its Russian sensibilities are clear, providing incentive to see more of Chekhov’s classic theatre works, as well as red-hot opportunity for its group of performers to hone their craft in what is clearly a joyous experience of expression and personal creativity.
Photos c/o – Naz Mulla