Fifty shades of hopelessness

The shooting pains of the old making way for the new, the unstoppable advance of the nouveau riche who couldn’t care less about tradition: Chekov’s last play bulges with the symbolism of doom and destruction. The hundred-year-old cherry trees face the axe in the theatre company Stan’s version too. The garden is to be divided into lots and summer houses built because that’s where the money is. While the auction is under way, landowner Ranevskaya, who made the family’s fortune in Paris, quickly organizes one last party. For Stan this Cherry Orchard is more or less an extension of Zomergasten (Summerfolk, 2010), a play with an equally large cast. Young colts are on stage alongside well-established actors. There are countless other parallels too. The loose structure, the frivolous atmosphere of boredom, the casualness with which characters talk about the important issues in life: they’re in this play too. The approach is noticeably streamlined. Even the busy troop movements with which the actors carry out a large-scale set change between each act, look stylized. Jollity and chaos are deployed sparingly. The prevailing tone is that of a tempered minor key. The horsing around with double roles has also been kept to a minimum: only Bert Haelvoet and Stijn Van Opstal swap jackets – and characters - once. The farcical and the tragic: with Stan they frequently flow over one into the other, but this time the grotesque magnification and caricature remain under the radar, while the gentle touch prevails. The hopeless situation is moulded with love, but then in soft hues. Serious faces, contemplative discussions: in this Cherry Orchard lunacy is a long way off. We have to make do with  suggestion. Like the mad walk with which Van Opstal characterizes the old servant Firs. Or Ranevskaya’s obsession (Jolente De Keersmaeker) with cuddling friends and acquaintances on her return. The Cherry Orchard is a lively and sharp-witted production, theatre with pace. But it is at its finest when everything comes to a standstill, when you sit watching with fascination how beautifully immobility is created on stage. In the end, this paralyzed generation goes on waiting to see which way the wind blows, waiting to see if anything happens. But taking control themselves? Never!

Geert Van der Speeten, De Standaard, May 20th 2015