Replacing the early 20th century Russian lords and ladies of the original with the loons and quines of north-east Scotland, Byrne sets his piece immediately before Thatcher’s election victory in 1979 . This is undeniably topical, and although some of the dramatic brushstrokes are a little too broad in places, The Cherry Orchard is a delightfully entertaining and amusing production, with enough of an undercurrent of fin de siècle poignancy to keep things from sinking too deeply into farce.
The Ramsay-Mackays are reunited in their family pile as they face the prospect of losing their home to increasing debts. Mrs Ramsay-Mackay (Maureen Beattie) has returned from Paris with daughter Ainsley (Hannah Donaldson) and valet Cluny (John Kielty). Widowed, Mrs Ramsay-Mackay and her brother Guy (Philip Bird) are forced to grasp reality with unaccustomed hands as they hatch plans to rescue their home – and the famous cherry orchard which lies beside it. Local boy-done-good Malcolm McCracken (Andy Clark) lurks in the background, riding the early waves of Thatcherite capitalism as he sees his chance to add to his fortune.
Byrne’s adapatation is clever, with Chekhov’s themes & symbolism making it mostly intact. The coming-to-power of Thatcher is a change suitably seismic, allowing comparisons between traditional and rising right-wing views to be examined – although some of the supporting characters, such as idealistic tutor Trotter aka ‘Trotsky’ (Matthew Pidgeon), are little more than two-dimensional foils to this.
Performances from the 12-strong cast are strong. Beattie is at the core of the production and she is more than able to meet the demands of the character. At times nostalgic and out of touch; at others taking control of spiralling situations and emotions, Beattie is convincing as the matriarch of this dysfunctional clan. Clark also impresses, with an animated and commanding performance as McCracken, whose initial shallowness reveals more complex depths as the play progresses.
Comic relief comes mostly from Bird’s performance of the buffoonish Guy, in denial of the magnitude of the situation, forever hitting imaginary golf balls towards imaginary holes. Myra McFadyen also sparkles here, with her memorable pantomime-like portrayal of Charlotte, an ex-child circus performer now within the family’s employ.
Being a Scottish dramatic giant’s take on a theatrical classic, this is a fitting finale to the Lyceum’s excellent 09/10 season. With an accomplished ensemble cast, director Tony Cownie’s fine pacing and yet more impressive work from the Lyceum’s creative team, it is also an accessible and enjoyable production that should appeal to many.
Further details, including ticket prices, are available on the Lyceum’s website.