The Cherry Orchard at HOME Mcr

I enjoy a ‘reimagining’, especially of a classic text or narrative with strong themes. It might not always ‘hit the mark’ or runs the risk of negative comparison to what an original that some might consider sacred. But it can also be enjoyed in its own right as a separate piece and do a service to the original in keeping it alive and provoking interest in those who haven’t yet had the pleasure.

As aware as I am of the themes and celebrated existence of Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov (although type Anton into Google and Du Beke is top of the pops – that’s showbiz, Chekhov) and his Cherry Orchard, I’ve never seen a production. Therefore I am regrettably about to let you down, and myself, on comparisons between the two versions, and the innovative ‘reimaginings’ of original characters from the original text.

But, as every production and piece of art should be treated individually and on its artistic merit, I will focus on taking this approach (she says, desperately)…

Vinay Patel’s sci fi adaptation of The Cherry Orchard sees an old starship travel through space, in search of a planet to call home. Like their ancestors before them, the crew were born on this ship, and this voyage is all they’ve ever known.

And then…a planet is spotted. In a place they could actually live. The crew are restless. The desire to find a home is strong. But Captain Ramesh is adamant that they can’t leave the ship.

Something has to change…

Will they leap into a new future, or stay stuck on this journey forever?

The set is the ship, the ship the set, sometimes static, sometimes revolving at various speeds. With screens we are able to see what they see, including a cleverly immersive eclipse achieved for us all with lighting and imagery.

Set in the ‘home’, each introduced character was individually carved out, and with familial tensions, co-worker flirtation, power struggles and tensions, it had domestic sitcom undertones and even long running serial drama potential.

Had the narrative not been crafted to have a very definite beginning, middle and an end, and a 140 min(ish) duration, the repartee and relationships between the characters definitely had scope for more situations, background exploration and storylines in a more serialised medium.

I guess I’m saying that I believed that this group of people on stage had history, such was their interactivity, and so it is to their credit that I wanted to know more.

Now, with every (well, most) fictional spaceships, comes the main ship’s computer.

We’ve had the sinister Hal (2001: A Space Odyssey), the dry, laconic Holly/ies (Red Dwarf) and here we have Divya (Chandrika Chevli), the passive-aggressive but perfectly pleasant ‘not quite paramour’ to enamoured crew member, Lenka (Maanuv Thiara), who even proposes marriage.

Credit: Johan Persson

In the related but, Google tells me, completely different field to AI, let’s talk robots.

Red Dwarf had Kryten, The Cherry Orchard has Feroze (Hari Mackinnon, my favourite of the characters and admittedly (and, perhaps, ironically) and one which provoked real emotion in me. That poor little robot servant, malfunctioning, abandoned by the family and crew, and, despite promises made, heinously left behind on the ship to ‘die’ alone.

No spoiler alert given as my gift to you is the preparation that I wish I’d had, in order to get through this.

Credit: Johan Persson

And whilst the Captain of the ship, Prema Ramesh (Anjali Jay), equally provoked emotion in me, it was of a very different nature. Her arrogant commanding of the ship and clear disregard for the bottom of the class system, crew and ‘downdeckers’, had my hackles rising and it was deeply satisfying to not only see an uprising result in her removal from power, but also witness her separation from the ship and, yes, the Cherry Orchard, the place she coveted the most. Pity the planet she was headed to.

Gosh, I’m a savage little sod, but kudos to Anjali Jay for triggering me so splendidly in a solid and literally commanding performance.

I’ll end on the fact that whilst I, again regrettably, don’t know the parallel that lies in the original text (or even if there is one), there was a part of the play that remains with me as I continue to desperately and, as yet, unsuccessfully, work out just how this special moment was realised.

Yes the production gave me cause to consider societal hierarchy, inherited entitlement, the importance and anchor that is ‘home’ and that we all have the potential to affect change.

But, reader, it was a card trick that shook me to my core. A very clever card trick and one that is almost worth seeing the play for, alone. Bravo to the grumpy, sweary, sarcastic, (randomly gifted?) amateur magician and youngest/eldest (it’s a space/time continuum thing) daughter of the Captain, Varsha (Tripti Tripuraneni).

Any undertones of ‘mixed bag’ coming from this write-up is in no small part down to my own frustration in being unable to draw parallels and identify what I imagine is undoubtably a clever repurposed Cherry Orchard, perfect for celebrants of the sci-fi genre and contemporary theatre-goers alike.

Suffice to say, my interest is provoked and, having happily engaged in Patel’s production last Thursday night, I’m now ready to find out just what I’ve been missing in Chekhov’s.

Job done, I’d say.

For cast and crew serials and to book tickets, visit HOME website – The Cherry Orchard.

The show runs at HOME, Manchester, until 19 November.

A Yard Theatre, ETT and HOME co-production, co-commissioned by The Yard Theatre and ETT.

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