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Pub theatre is back and kicking with size 10's: Mercury Fur at the Old Red Lion Theatre

Chuckling at the Tobacco Factory's Cherry Orchard

TimthumbI don't remember ever chuckling at The Cherry Orchard quite like I did at the Tobacco Factory Theatre on Thursday. Director Andrew Hilton has teased out the wit in Chekhov's play of posh folk with money troubles, cranking up the melodrama and throwing in some physical humour to boot. 

It not only gives the play a lighter touch - in a good way - but makes it all the more entertaining and engaging for it.

The Cherry Orchard isn't a favourite play of mine, as I've mentioned before here, and my irritation with the central characters' inaction remains but in making their deportment so ridiculous it heightens the sense of futility that is at the heart of their behaviour. There is also a warmth in their behaviour you suspect that, deep down, they are aware of their silliness and foibles but it binds them together.

Julia Hills' Ranevskaya has a charm that makes you believe her Paris apartment would be crowded with gentlemen callers and Simon Armstrong's Lopakhin is shrewd but not cold and portrays a genuine warmth and affection for Ranevskaya and her family.

What this production also does is make more of the ensemble, each sub plots feels weightier than in previous versions so that the pace never seems to lag. From Yasha (Piers Wehner) the sly and snobbish man servant to the clumsy clerk Yepikohdov (Paul Brendan) who carries a gun just in case he wants to kill himself and the intense, eternal student Trofimov (Benjamin O'Mahony) - all add larger than life colour.

Aged, bumbling, mumbling servant Firs (Paul Nicholson) could have shuffled straight off the set of a traditional British sitcom, as could the magic-performing governess Charlotta (Saskia Portway).

This is Chekhov lightened but is all the more rich for it. And, as this was first preview I think it can only get better and better as the actors grow accustomed to the audiences laughter. It's getting four stars from me.

The Cherry Orchard runs at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol until May 5 and then transfers to the Rose Theatre in Kingston from 15-19 May.


 Simon Armstrong has a fistful of second degree connections starting with appearing in Hamlet at The Globe with Joshua Maguire who was in The Hour with Mr W. He was also in Made In Dagenham with Andrea Riseborough (The Pride) and Edge of Love which starred Sienna Miller (Layer Cake).