Tg STAN makes Chekhov’s ‘Cherry Orchard’ a ‘Kissing Orchard’

Tg STAN has produced a magnanimous Cherry Orchard where hope glows through the despair like the first golden-yellow rays of sunshine after a dark winter.
Her lips must be painful by the end of each performance. The number of kisses she plants on the lips of her fellow actors are too numerous to count. Jolente De Keersmaeker as the kissing Lyubov, the owner of the estate in Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard(1904), becomes pawing. And that makes her performance so magnanimously dangerous. This Lyubov kisses her fears and troubles away. And if there is nothing to kiss, she simply ignores the problems with masterful absent-mindedness.
Rarely have I attended such a well-thought-out and dazzling staging of Anton Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard. An impressionistic version almost of a typical Chekhov story: a once fabulously wealthy family is now barely able to make ends meet and in a state of total malaise. Despite all the plans nobody knows (or dares) to decide if the vast cherry orchard on the estate where they spend the summers should be sold. Eventually an outsider (albeit a businessman friend) decides the fate of the estate where the family has spent its best times together. STAN sets the play in a magnificent set: a vast, bare stage dominated by large casement doors on wheels in front of which hang long Venetian blinds. The backdrop is a sailcloth which looks like a washed-out landscape painting. This set presents any number of opportunities for running on and off, watching each other from different angles and at the same time showing a lot without it becoming a cacophony of impressions.
While De Keersmaeker is the kissing (and whirling) pivotal figure in the family, several actors who are equally at home in their roles orbit around her. Bert Haelvoet performs each role he takes on more impressively and with greater nonchalance. Here he plays a landowner and young servant. He even manages to incorporate the giggles of pleasure of several teenage girls in the auditorium seamlessly and elegantly into his performance. The same applies to Stijn Van Opstal who sways across the stage peering and laughing mockingly as he goes, the only one to have real contact with the audience – the outside world – and to stand with both feet firmly in life and on the ground, unlike the family he serves as 'Firs'. The young guard is brimming over with talent and determination and perhaps it is that which makes their performances rather less elastic. Their acting is not quite  melancholy enough so that some of Evelien Bosmans’, Evgenia Brendes’ and Lukas DeWolf’s retorts sound slightly artificial. But when Brendes (Lyubov’s adopted daughter) spouts Russian, then the flame flickers. Trenchant and damning, she cuts straight through the youthful optimism. Magnificent! Robby Cleiren plays Leonid, Lyubov’s brother and dreamy babbler who always uses lots of words to say nothing.
Until the end. When the cherry orchard is sold – thanks to the single-mindedness of businessman (Frank Vercruyssen) – and none of the characters have any idea what they will do with the rest of their lives, brother and sister fall into each others’ arms, just before taking the train to another life. That embrace embodies all the pain, stifled longing and sorrow which flow through their lives. But that is not the final image. It is the servant Firs who extinguishes the light. In the quiet, intimate final image hope spirals over despair. Hope and peace. Two emotions which can save a life. Even the life of a Chekhov character.

Els Van Steenberghe, Focus Knack, May 26th 2015