The Cherry Orchard (4 stars)

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The Cherry Orchard

What’s immediately striking about John Byrne’s bold new adaptation of Chekhov’s swansong is how sympathetically it translates to its new setting – the north-east of Scotland on the eve of Mrs Thatcher’s first election victory in 1979 – with very little need for radical revisions to the scenario beyond language and period references. While there are references to the macro situation through radio clips of the demise of the Callahan government and Thatcher’s subsequent sweep to power, overall the political backdrop is not allowed to overpower the exploration of the effects of shifting social class on individual characters, chrystallised in the loss of the Ramsay family’s ancestral pile and cherry orchard to Thatcherite entrepreneur, Malcolm McCracken.

While Tony Cownie’s production largely succeeds in maintaining the balance between humour and pathos, the endless slapstick antics of Grant O’Rourke’s clumsy Sorley Shanks quickly becomes wearing, while some of the characters seem out of place with the setting and tone of the adaptation. Matthew Pidgeon’s Trotter (aka ‘Trotsky’) at times comes across as mere mouthpiece for radical socialist politics and has the look of Viz character Student Grant to boot, while it seems faintly unbelievable that Myra McFadyen’s wise fool governess Charlotte would be tolerated in the Ramsay-Mackay entourage in outfits that make her look like a cross between Oor Wullie and Jonny Rotten.

Among the peripheral characters Ralph Riach gives an eye-catching performance as the stalwart and ultimately tragic servant Fintry, while Philip Bird is perfectly cast as Mrs Ramsay-Mackay’s hopeless stuffed shirt brother, Guy. And the leads are excellent – Maureen Beattie capturing the inconsistency and grief of Mrs Ramsay-Mackay, with Andy Clark suitably self-conscious, vulgar and pathetic as the family nemesis McCracken.

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 8 May

The Cherry Orchard

  • 4 stars

John Byrne's version of Chekhov's classic drama of social upheaval. Post-show discussion on Tue 27 Apr.

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