Will they mortgage the future or cut down the family's cherry orchard? Chekhov's very modern drama comes to Ogbourne Maizey
A classic and bittersweet comedy, a touring theatre company with nearly forty years experience and a beautiful garden in Ogbourne Maizey - this production of The Cherry Orchard by the Miracle Theatre company from Cornwall is a must see event in July.
The Cherry Orchard is Anton Chekhov's last play - and his most frequently performed play. It was first staged in 1904 when Russia's landed rich and their staff were still adjusting to the emancipation of the serfs.
The play has strong resonances for our own times - exploring as it does, how people react to times of great change. This production, says the play's adapter and director, Bill Scott, is not highlighting any special point or message. He is also Miracle Theatre's artistic director - and was a founder of the company in 1979.
Marlborough.news spoke to Bill Scott during a break in rehearsals. Why choose The Cherry Orchard?: "It's about people trying to cope with change. The way I like to approach plays...well...I don't go into them with preconceptions - rather working together with a group of good actors and seeing characters develop."
Chekhov's characters all have modern resonances - the estate is to be sold to pay for the extravagances of its owner, Madame Ranevsky. Its new owner is 'new money' - a former peasant who has become a wealthy merchant: "The cherry orchard is now mine!...I bought the estate on which my grandfather and father were slaves, where they were not even permitted in the kitchen."
One character is in favour of 'modernisation', another harks back to the good old days and the younger generation has a bowl full of problems that lie this side of marriage. The orchard itself takes on the importance of a central character - should the 'family' be split up? Should the 'family silver' be sold off?
The play has twelve speaking parts and Bill has six actors to work with: "I like letting the text unfold and see what seven individuals make of it. That's slightly risky - you don't really know where you're going till you get there." How's it going so far? "I think very well indeed."
In adapting the play, Bill Scott has 'de-Russianised it - to a degree' taking out some time and language references that may now confuse: "We're presenting it as a play about a family - the relationship among them and with their staff - and how they cope with the huge change they're subjected to."
This will be the fifteenth year Marion Gordon-Finlayson and her husband have invited the Miracle Theatre to their garden at Maizey Lodge. In doing so she has raised many thousands of pounds for charities from Marie Curie Cancer Care through Help for Heroes to The Merchant's House Trust. Last year it was the Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust.
This year's charity is Home-Start Kennet which helps families across Devizes, Pewsey, Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham and Tidworth. Home-Start Kennet provides trained volunteers to support families struggling to cope with the challenges of family life - and when changes disturb their lives.
The Miracle Theatre is based in Redruth. Their tour with The Cherry Orchard starts on June 15 in Hayle on Cornwall's north and very west coast. It takes in seven evenings at the cliff-top Minack Theatre near Penzance and four performances in the Isles of Scilly - and ends on August 25 in Penryn - after fifty-four performances. Ogbourne Maizey is their most easterly and most northern venue.
Their productions have included Shakespeare plays, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, adaptations like last year's The Third Policeman and their Frankenstein! version, as well as new writing.
We wait to find out whether this year's Miracle Theatre's production will end with the echoing sound of men taking axes to the family's beloved cherry orchard.
The performance is on Thursday, July 12 at Maizey Lodge, Ogbourne Maizey, SN8 1RY. It will start at 7.30pm - 'whatever the weather'.
The gates open at 6.00pm for picnics - and playgoers are asked to bring chairs.
There will be a bar, coffee, ice creams...and loos. And parking.