Theatre in Wales

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Gary Owen brings Chekhovian beauty to Pembrokeshire

At the Sherman

Sherman Theatre- The Cherry Orchard , Sherman Theatre , October 17, 2017
At the Sherman by Sherman Theatre- The Cherry Orchard Gary Owen’s reimagining of Chekhov’s early twentieth century play places it in Pembrokeshire some eighty years later. Owen’s writing and Rachel O’Riordan’s brave directing reflects the Russian ‘hiraeth’ that determines the pace of the play. Whilst one did get very caught up in the developing disaster I did feel I had got to know this family and wanted things to work out well for them and for the beautiful cherry trees to stay.

Here was an overall sighing beauty to this fine example of theatre art. It reminded me of the joy of sipping vintage port in a comfortable armchair. There was plenty of wine quaffing on stage too. The simplicity of Kenny Miller’s stripped back set design contributed much to the atmosphere. A high bare stage with just a few furniture elements – it’s the words that matter.

Those words were most convincingly uttered by every member of this very fine cast who brought a strong sense of realism to the characters they portrayed. We first meet Lewis, a man of some charm that belies his eventual betrayal of the family. Mathew Bulgo perfectly captures the changing nature of this newborn capitalist. He is delightfully teased by maid/housekeeper, Dottie, who most certainly does not know her place. Alexandria Riley is full of wicked charm and delight.

We are given another ‘big’ performance by Denise Black. She captures Rainey, the owner of the failing estate with gusto. Her drunken sensuality and ‘high living’ is part of the cause of the chaos the family finds themselves in. Her adopted daughter, Valerie bears the brunt of keeping things going, again a perfectly realised interpretation from Hedydd Dylan. Similarly her other younger daughter Anya is played with a feisty allure by Morfydd Clark. But not so much that budding ‘Corbynista’ Ceri can’t handle. Richard Mylan has magically shed a few years of his Killology role and remains equally as strong.

Rainey’s brother Gabriel seems at first he might be a safe pair of hands to hold everyone together. But even he fails to find a pair of warm hands to wrap around himself, as everyone starts to leave. Simon Armstrong brings such a strong feel of realism to the role. Like all the cast, whenever they address one another it’s real people speaking and getting right through to us all.

Countless suggestions to save the estate and the orchard all fail. We hear the first cherry tree go: it’s all over. In the diming light a young boy runs on to the stage, finds his favourite toy: a model train, there is fear in his eyes, he screams for his mother, a cry that has often been heard in Rainey’s head. Sentimental? More a poignant ending to a very sorry but captivating family story.

Photo by Mark Douet

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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