By David Hennessy
The Acting Gymnasium have produced not one but two sterling productions for this year’s Camden Fringe with The Cherry Orchard, a modern reworking of Anton Chekhov’s classic joining Uncle Vanya in rep at Theatro Technis.
The story centres around the failing fortunes of the once wealthy Ranyevshy family who are now faced with possibly losing their estate. However businessman and family friend Ermolai offers them the alternative of leasing land where their beautiful cherry orchard is, as he sees it, an opportunity being wasted. But the estate and orchard means far too much to the family [it was the scene of Lubov Ranyevshy’s son’s death by drowning] and are reluctant to even consider this, hoping that another alternative will be presented.
Shane Noone from Belmullet in Mayo plays convincing but perhaps not trustworthy Ermolai. Shane’s mannerisms and brogue are reminiscent of the actor Edward MacLiam. He tells sympathetically about being beaten by his father and how his mother would say, using apt Irish phrasing: “You’ll be alright before you’re married”.
It is interesting to see an Irishman play this role as there were many Ermolais offering such deals (i.e. selling or leasing “the most beautiful thing in the world”) in Celtic Tiger Ireland. The actor Shane has clearly used his background in finance to inform his performance.
London-Irish actress Theresa Cole is excellent in the role of Lubov, the honoured woman fallen on hard times around whom all the other characters revolve. Her heart break is very convincing when the final twist concerning the orchard’s fate is revealed.
Excellent support in a quality cast comes from Alexandra Carlos from Mayo in the role of Anya, Lubov’s young daughter. Alexandra plays the role with a suitable mix of maturity and innocence.
Credit has to go to actors performing in both plays (also Uncle Vanya), including John Brennan from Swinford who plays Leonid, a comic character who tries to save the estate but lacks the drive.
The impressive Reuben Williams, who plays the lead of Vanya, provides an apt adversary for Noone’s Ermolai. Their intense dislike for each other makes for tense exchanges between the two men.
Martin Banalow provides the comic relief with great lines like, “Oi, slag, where’s the cream?” These additions work well in their purpose to make Chekhov more accessible. Director and adaptor James O’Donnell deserves credit for completely reworking a Russian classic for a modern audience.
Also deserving mention are Irish-Canadian Matthew McFetridge who plays the educated but oafish Yasha and Naomi Stafford who plays Dunyasha, whose heart he breaks.
Cherry Orchard is on at 2.30pm, Uncle Vanya is on at 7.30pm on Saturday August 23, both at Theatro Technis.
For more information, go to www.actinggymnasium.co.uk.