Rambling through an interminable now

Tg STAN fills its large-scale adaptation of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ with ten actors, spectacular lighting, window frames on wheels, a Persian carpet and long blinds. In Chekhov’s last work an impoverished landowner returns to her estate after five years. She has run up such large debts that she has to sell the estate.

Whereas there is little more to the plot than this synopsis, Chekhov created a subtle mosaic of people whose characters and relationships are gradually revealed. With frivolous chaos ‘The Cherry Orchard’ rambles through nostalgia, grief and longing: the trivial and significant events that colour human life.

Surrounded by the memory of a past that is as painful as it is sugared, the characters throw themselves with bravado into the short-lived reunion with their materfamilias. The narrative unfolds in the fragile space between encounter and departure where at most the trivial can unfold. Any attempt at direction threatens to be interrupted by the arrival of other characters, side -tracking or bedtime.

The characters are unable to do much more than observe and submit to the world. But a broad, dramatic space is created in that directionlessness in which the minuscule stories of these people are developed. They lick the scars of the past, seek justification for centuries of slavery, comfort for the death of a child, an answer to unattainable love and some control over this world. Babbling through an interminable ‘now’, ‘The Cherry Orchard’ flows on towards a playful yet moving tragedy.

The reality outside the story cannot be suppressed either and fiction regularly intrudes. With some frivolity the actors allow the borders between story and reality, character and actor to blur. In the middle of the scenes they perform the set changes, they criticize the late appearances of their opposite number and occasionally Stijn Van Opstal even mutters stage directions.

However, that frivolous nonchalance places the characters at a distance. The fiction is only a game within a wider reality, when the actor behind the character comes to the fore. Only in the last two acts does the production begin to sink and breathing space is created for an honest portrait.

The real driving force behind this production is the rhythm and the visual development. The play sheers from wordless reverie on a sofa to a dazzling dance party. At the same time Thomas Walgrave’s unrivalled lighting design has the space contract to a subdued silence or bellow out by having a glorious morning light pour in through the window frames.

The most beautiful moment is the morning after the sale of the house when departure is imminent. The emptiness is foisted upon us with the inhospitable light of a single bulb, the house blows out its last candle when the plot has just got under way. With a fragile beauty ‘The Cherry Orchard’ sketches an almost poetic picture of human experience. Rather than the stuff of great story lines, this is something that can be observed in all its facets.

The result is a large-scale ramble with a sense of the bottomlessness of trivial details and the confounding repercussion of the insignificant.

Maarten Luyten, Cutting Edge, May 21th 2015