The Cherry Orchard – Week 3

With just under a month to go until The Cherry Orchard‘s debut, Assistant Director Evan Lordan took a quick five minutes out of the rehearsal room to fill us in on all the latest updates from Week 3. 


8. Jude Owusu, Kirsty Bushell, Simon Coateselliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-031Director Michael Boyd and Writer/Translator Rory Mullarkey have both made reference to the fact that The Cherry Orchard is often read as a naturalistic play, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. They have both mentioned similarities between The Cherry Orchard and Samuel Beckett’s absurdist tragicomedy, Waiting for Godot, especially in the first two acts where nothing happens (twice!). Just like Beckett’s work, this play is rife with gallows humour; watching a run of Act 2 earlier this week put a great big smile across my face while simultaneously making my skin crawl. All the complicated, contradictory, lovable and laughable characters in the play seem to live in this uncomfortable state of inconsistency all the time.

Chekhov is often credited with the storytelling maxim “one must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep”. Well, Act 2 introduces two guns from the very beginning. Make of that what you will…

7. Togo Igawa, Michael Boyd elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH055

Are you talking to me?” Michael Boyd has also spoken about the fact that the text suggests that at least one character is trying to make direct conversation with the audience. This is the first time that Michael has directed a Chekhov piece and he wants to stay true to the playwright’s intentions. But this is hardly turning the production into an immersive theatre event; this is an attempt to stay true to a 114-year-old text. What is beautiful is that it naturally still feels contemporary.

10. Jude Owusu, Kirsty Bushell elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-227

As Assistant Director, I am trying to make the most of working with such a talented bunch of individuals. I was a fan of The Cherry Orchard before I started on this project, but I am an even bigger fan now. So many of my preconceptions of this play have been utterly turned on their head due to everybody’s incredibly thoughtful and emotional insights into the script. Every decision made in this rehearsal room has had real purpose and every question we meet that hasn’t yet been answered galvanizes the group – more intriguing puzzles left by Chekhov for us to unravel together. It’s difficult to give any examples without creating spoilers and so, unfortunately, I will remain vague, but I will say that now that we’ve spent three weeks getting under the skin of this thing, the major decisions that are being made just feel right. It’s very hard for me to imagine another more compelling way of interpreting this show.

5. Kirsty Bushell elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-112

You can’t pigeonhole a single character; each of them as such a story to tell. One of my favourite things about Chekhov is how he uses characters to present different points of view surrounding the themes he chooses, and how they give texture to the complexity of any given subject. He sees things with complete objectivity and is able to simply present truth without making judgement. We, the audience are the ones who must decide what is right or wrong, good or bad. A situation is presented to you and you are asked to question for yourself, rather than being preached at or told what to think. That is not an easy thing for an artist to achieve, especially when you hold strong beliefs on the subject yourself. Life is never black and white; Chekhov knows this and we are a lucky audience to have him.


The Cherry Orchard opens at Bristol Old Vic on 1 Mar and runs til 7 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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The Cherry Orchard – Week 2

While The Cherry Orchard rehearsals continue to power ahead, Assistant Director Evan Lordan gives us an inside scoop at how the cast are preparing to take on Chekhovs final masterpiece in our ‘Year of Change’ season.


Week 2 - FlippedThe moment you think Chekhov is being judgemental, think again.”

Week 2’s rehearsal diary is scattered with insights, exclamations and questions that have come about in the rehearsal room as a result of delving into the text of The Cherry Orchard. I don’t attribute them to anyone in particular and they are intentionally left without any context, as it makes some of them seem incredibly profound, some very curious and others very silly…

There is a trap in thinking that if people are rude to your character, that that means you are low status – not so.”

The work never stops here on The Cherry Orchard! It is lunchtime on Friday afternoon and Movement Director Liz Ranken is working with Éva Magyar and Joseph Hardy on the choreography and music for Act 3; it is a lot of fun, has lots of energy and is, quite simply, spectacular.

He would watch people and has such a keen eye for human behaviour and psychology; be in the same room as Anton Chekhov at your peril!

This week has been the first time that the actors have been given a chance to stretch their legs, which is good because they have been champing at the bit for the chance to try these characters on for size. This play is an absolute beast and although we’ve had a chance to skip ahead and look at choreography in Act 3, we have only just started scratching the surface of Act 2 on Friday morning.

Always trust a sudden mood swing!”

I have been watching Director Michael Boyd like a hawk, trying to glean and steal as much theatrical know how as humanly possible. He wants every single moment of this production to hold water; why a character says what they say, how they say it, which entrance they come from and every single movement they make or don’t make. Nothing is left to chance and everything has purpose. The two most recurring phrases in the room are, “I don’t buy it” or “I buy that”.

Chekhov loves the exquisite anguish of unrequited love.”

Making up the arching four-act narrative is the detail in each character’s individual stories, such as filling an awkward silence by deciding to give to someone their telegrams and going to stand near a different character to give them support or for safety. This ‘story’ may take up only 5 or 10 seconds of stage time, but it has a beginning, middle and end. Those 10 seconds have purpose and drive and as a result we, the audience, can ‘buy it’ as truthful.

He is a genius about the hardship of money, the psychology of it… the humiliation it can cause, the desperation, how it can affect us spiritually.”

I think it’s worth mentioning that just because there is this constant search for each character to have truthful stories and motivations, it doesn’t mean that this show is singularly located in the realms of ‘Realism’ or ‘Naturalism’.

Can both of you do a one-handed cartwheel?”

This was Chekhov’s final play and he had started to experiment with different forms; Michael Boyd is looking to stay as loyal to Chekhov’s intentions as possible by embracing the different styles and genres that he was exploring at the time.

Chekhov is so cruel.”


The Cherry Orchard opens at Bristol Old Vic on 1 Mar and runs til 7 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Cherry Orchard – Week 1

Rehearsals began last week for the first show in our ‘Year of Change’ season, The Cherry Orchard. Here, Assistant Director Evan Lordan gives us a first behind-the-scenes glimpse at how this vivid new production of Chekhov’s masterpiece is finding its feet.


Model showing 15 Jan 2017 The Cherry Orchard_cropped_GS


This week has been a massive journey; through the life of Anton Chekhov, through Russian History and through The Cherry Orchard. Day 1 and a room full of about 30 people – Bristol Old Vic and Royal Exchange Theatre staff, technicians, costumes makers, dressers, stage managers, producers, sound designers, lighting designers and the cast – meet for the first read through of the play in Paddington Arts, London. Everyone is lovely, but few people know each other and there is an excited, nervous energy in the room. I find it quite comforting to see others in the room seemingly as awkward as me! We take a break from the ‘getting-to-know-yous’ and get our first glimpse at the model box and how designer, Tom Piper, plans on transforming Bristol Old Vic’s auditorium. I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, but this is going to be a pretty unique and very special experience for the Bristol Old Vic faithful.

Then we get down to brass tacks, reading the script. On Day One we are not expecting too much, but despite that it is truly compelling to hear the characters of The Cherry Orchard coming to life.

Usually production meetings are not a source of great excitement, but here the most pressing point on the agenda was the need to find a magic specialist who could help us with some of the unique quandaries presented by this play. Not your usual day at the office!

Director, Michael Boyd, speaks with great passion about Chekhov. He is a true aficionado and an absolute fountain of knowledge with regard to the life and times of the man. It becomes apparent that as much as we will be reading The Cherry Orchard, we will be reading the author and his life as a way of interpreting the words on the page and what his intentions were, and what our intentions will become.

Michael studied in Russia, speaks Russian and has worked with Rory Mullarkey on this translation – because they both felt that while there have been worthy English ‘versions’, they wanted to create as true a translation of Chekhov’s words as possible. Rory has been working with us in the room all week and it has been incredibly interesting and useful to hear what choices had to be made in terms of finding the best words to give the actors in lieu of direct translatable words and meanings. Russians speak in a far more direct way than most of us in the UK and both Rory and Michael wanted to champion that blunt attitude, that unique way of speaking and the speech rhythms contained in the original Russian. The faint-of-heart need not worry however; this is still one of Chekhov’s most poetic, subtle and lyrical plays.

Most of the work this week has been going through the text with a fine-tooth comb, which this text absolutely deserves. It is so rich with meaning, beauty, ugliness and truth that after a week we have still not investigated all four acts, but not one minute of our time has been uninspiring or wasted.


The Cherry Orchard opens at Bristol Old Vic on 1 Mar and runs til 7 Apr. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Little Matchgirl Rehearsal Diary – Week 1

Rehearsals have officially begun for our Christmas show, The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales. Here, Assistant Director Keziah Serreau gives us a first behind-the-scenes look at this Christmas’ Hans Christian Andersen-inspired tale.


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Here we are on the first day of Little Matchgirl remount rehearsals and it’s all very exciting. I can sense a few nerves floating about in the room as the company arrive one after the other. It feels a bit like the first day at school. We’re remounting the show with an entirely new company of actors apart from our Puppeteer Eddie, most of them have not worked together before. The room is bubbling with the same excitement and apprehension as when one embarks on an entirely new play. Although the show is familiar to me as I was in rehearsals when it was first created last year, I cannot wait to see how this new company will bring their own interpretation to the show.

Another new element is the fact that we now have a fully formed set, hooray! We first created the show for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse which is a beautiful and intimate candlelit theatre but can also be quite restrictive in terms of set design. So, as this show will now venture into new venues touring around the UK over the next months, Vicki our Designer, gives us a short presentation of the model box. She has come up with a set that embraces the different worlds of the show, from the magical Edwardian music hall world of Ole Shuteye to the cold reality in which our Little Matchgirl lives.

Emma and Vicki explain they want the set to reflect the injustice and inequalities happening worldwide, they want to reclaim the idea of Christmas by acknowledging the harsh living conditions many people experience. On a cut out stuck on the model box, we see an abundant xmas table and can read the words ‘make Christmas great again’, we all laugh.

We play a few games to start with and get to know each other. We jokingly call it our youth club warm up. The atmosphere becomes playful and focused. Playing games switches our brains on, gets rid of inhibitions and binds us together, all the essential elements we need to be creative and collaborative.

Next, Sarah, our Puppet Director leads a short puppet session before she has to rush off to Bristol to perform in The Tin Drum. Sarah hands out sticks of all different shapes and sizes and the company play with the idea of the stick being just a stick in the hand of an actor to a puppet stick operated by an actor.  The company explore the different focus points and the relationship between the puppeteer, the puppet and audience.

Katy tries to operate Thumbelina and after a few goes, she discovers how very technically difficult it is to operate a puppet, she jokingly suggests that perhaps Thumbelina should be in a chair as she struggles to make the puppet legs walk.

As stage management unfold all the props of the show, our rehearsal room fills up with big beetle legs, mattresses, a toad, a swallow, a butterfly, small beetles, a fly, crowns, Christmas trees, a thunder box, mice, presents, chips and a charity workers hi viz jacket.

As the company start to learn the moves and songs of the Shuteyes, our chorus of Edwardian music hall story tellers, the company unveil some of the magic and start to own this play.


The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales opens at Bristol Old Vic from 30 Nov – 14 Jan. For more information and to book tickets, click here. 

The Caretaker Rehearsal Diary – Week 4

With preparations for previews well under way, The Caretaker Assistant Director Chino Odimba took a quick five minutes out of the rehearsal room to fill us in on all the latest updates from week 4.


The Caretaker - Rehearsals - Photo by Iona Firouzabadi - 8473.jpgIf the last three weeks have been the slow saunter through the tunnel, mascot happily dancing in front of you, this week is the bit just before the referee throws the coin up in the air.

And now imagine that before all of this, this is the first time you have been on this particular pitch, in this particular stadium…

Weird football analogy over…

Having spent most of the rehearsal time so far in a one of the lovely rehearsal spaces at Bristol Old Vic, we are now moving onto the stage.

This may come as surprise but for most productions, the cast do not start using the stage space until the final week of rehearsal.

It is a week of testing everything that we have been doing in the rehearsal room – and sometimes having to rethink scenes. There are people everywhere – technicians, costumes makers, dressers, stage managers, producers, sound designers, lighting designers, and the cast all trying to get the best of the week before we open to you – the public! We might even spot our Artistic Director Tom Morris popping in to see how things are going…eeek!!!

Piz 1

This part of the process is where all the ideas about costumes, lighting, sound and set come together to make the show that we will all be seeing in under six days!  The set will be ‘dressed’, things will be ‘flown’ and the several gallons of coffee will be drank!

There is also a lot of excitement to see the final look for each actor…we have had some glimpses of costume but yet to see them in all their glory.

My role as Assistant Director will mean I spend a lot of time with the actors helping to them to feel confident with who their character is, and ensuring they know their lines as best as possible. Right until the opening previews, we will now be working to make the show better and better, and find new things that we didn’t, and couldn’t, have found in the rehearsal room.

I’ve had a fun time being Assistant Director for The Caretaker – it is a play that I love very much so feel especially honoured to be working on it. Seeing the process of a play from the initial reading of the script to the realisation of it on a stage is something quite special indeed.

For now, I’m strapping my boots on, waiting for the whistle to go, and for kick-off!!

Wish us luck…and see you there for a post match drink or two!


The Caretaker opens at Bristol Old Vic 9-30 September. For more information and to book tickets, click here.