A feast of theatre about leave-taking in a major key

Each of Anton Chekhov’s major plays features a party. A farewell party. Then you hear a pistol shot, everyone goes home and a manuscript is torn up. Or the house and land are sold. As in The Cherry Orchard, his last play. With Stan they dance for a long time behind the windows, the sound of trees being felled is not yet heard, an axe only makes a brief appearance and the characters draw out the leave-taking. Seeing Stan perform is a two-hour (farewell) feast.

Playwright Anton Chekhov suits Stan down to the ground. For the sixth time in their quarter-century history, they are staging another Chekhov and this time with a large cast. Frank Vercruyssen and Jolente De Keersmaeker are surrounded by actors who have previously performed alongside them. Robby Cleiren, Bert Haelvoet and the unsurpassable Stijn Van Opstal. But there are also five up-and-coming youngsters who want to show what they have to offer and prove that they, too, can perform in the typical Stan style: Evelien Bosmans, Lukas De Wolf, Evgenia Brendes, Scarlet Tummers and Rosa Van Leeuwen.

And they do that with class and verve. They enter fully into acting the acting. They act characters, they act that they act, they relativize themselves, occasionally trip themselves up, provide commentary on themselves, on fellow actors and, above all, they exude the infectious pleasure in acting that is so typical of Stan. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes subtle and sometimes the grotesque becomes a deeply tragic scene. They always remain credible in their emotional and rational releases.

In The Cherry Orchard Lyubov returns home after a long period abroad. Businessman Lopakhin initiates the story, telling us we can begin, where the actors should stand, and explaining that he has worked his way up from peasant to businessman. He is a peasant with yellow shoes. Lyubov arrives home full of enthusiasm. Though penniless and with a broken heart, she finds comfort in seeing her daughter, her adopted daughter, her brother, the housemaid and the servants again. The encounter with teacher-student Peter is painful because her son was sitting in his class when he died seven years earlier.

Thirteen characters people the stage. Van Opstal and Haelvoet play a couple of double roles. They do this by announcing it and putting on a different jacket. They are all distinct characters, some rather more developed that others, but always ‘real’.  They supplement the script with commentary, they speak stage directions out loud and they whisper instructions with the main scene changes.

They drag the large windows from one side to the other, they move long tables, they pull up the high venetian blinds and gradually let them down as it gets darker. There is always something to tinker with, the spots, the ropes. There are even a couple of conjuring tricks: a flame here, a cloud of smoke there, a pair of trousers that disappears, a woman floating on balloons. Sometimes they explain how the trick works, just as in their acting they show how they are pretending, but not always.

Chekhov explicitly called his last play (1903) “a comedy in four acts”. But as so often with his plays even then The Cherry Orchard was seen as a tragedy. In the last 100 years the play has been interpreted in many ways. With tg Stan it is a comedy, reinforced by additions, but a comedy with a melancholic undertone. Leave-taking is difficult, you keep putting it off, you come up with corny jokes, you dance the reality away, you want to escape but you can’t. Whether it’s about social progress or the loss of the Occident, or a play about the pursuit of profit or faded glory, it’s all there. Is it a tragedy of human impotence? Of loss?

Chekhov wanted to avoid gravity at all costs, and Stan manages to do just that without getting bogged down in hamming it up and farcical exaggeration. In fact, Stan’s older actors and the youthful talent proved perfectly capable of dosing their quasi nonchalance, their rhythm, their dancing pleasure in acting, eye for detail, keen characterizations, the lightness of their approach to acting and the wittiness of dialogues. Tg Stan does not impose any specific interpretation on the play, but gives the spectator ample opportunity to read the expressed inner life in his own way, and simply allows the spectator to enjoy the acting for two hours.

Tuur Devens, De Theaterkrant, May 21th 2015