The Cherry Orchard – Creating the Key Image

Ahead of the run, we caught up with photographer Seamus Ryan to find out how he captured the lead image for our upcoming spring spectacular, The Cherry Orchard.


It was late October last year when Richard Brett, the Graphic Designer at Bristol Old Vic, got in touch about shooting the lead image for their upcoming production of The Cherry Orchard. I was delighted, as I had already had the privilege of working on Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Grinning Man in 2016, so I knew an exciting collaborative and creative project lay ahead. What I didn’t predict was that by the end of the shoot I would also become something of an expert in the international trade of exotic fruit and vegetables.

Richard already had the bones of the concept for the image. He knew from the director, Michael Boyd, that the play would be full of humour and sadness, as it addressed the social tension between the two leads and the play’s key theme of change. We discussed the possible layout and the colour palette. Preparing for a photoshoot is an all-consuming process. All sorts of disparate elements and people must come together to form the final image. In this case, the talented team from Bristol would provide costumes and make-up. A time was found in the busy schedules of actors Kirsty Bushell and Jude Owusu. Apart from designing the lighting, I was to source the set and props. The shoot was less than a week away but everything was coming together nicely. What could possibly go wrong?

I first sensed we might have a problem after checking all the usual places for cherries. My local supermarkets and fruit stalls were devoid of them. I extended the search to more specialist fruit suppliers like Harrods and Selfridges. They too drew a blank. I was told the season had ended in late August so supply was very limited. Mild panic began to envelope me. How can we do a shoot for The Cherry Orchard without a cherry? As a last resort back-up, I went online and ordered some fake cherries. They were hat decorations and bound to look dodgy but I was confident we would not need them. London is one of the culinary capitals of the world and I had a new lead…

At 7am on a wet Wednesday, I met Gary Voight, owner of Elsey & Bent, famed purveyors of exotic fruit and veg and based for generations in Borough Market. If anyone could find me a cherry, this was the man. He gave me hope, as he had heard there might be some cherries flying in from Argentina that night. He would personally call on all his contacts at New Covent Garden Market at 4am the next morning. In the meantime, a friend of a friend in the fruit business also agreed to trawl the wholesale markets. He also had word of South American night flights. There was nothing more I could do but wait.

My studio was a blur of activity as we prepared for the arrival of our stars, Kirsty and Jude. Although they had both been cast for the production by Michael, they hadn’t actually met each other til the shoot. The instant chemistry between them was inspiring and infectious. Two great acting talents riffing off each other, full of ideas, wit and creativity. I knew straight away that we were going to get something special. I also instantly knew that I really wanted to see the real thing on stage in Bristol. From the many variations we shot on the day, one final image was chosen. It now graces the walls of the theatre and train stations, features in national and local press, and is the cover image of Bristol Old Vic’s season brochure. It will be seen by thousands and I hope will serve the play well. I couldn’t be happier.

At the heart of the image and central to the poster’s communication are 47 of the most ripe and succulent cherries one could ever wish for. Lopakhin, played by Jude, holds one up as if symbolic of his new position. A cut-glass bowl is full to the brim, suggesting the orchard outside. Well, not really. It turns out we picked the one week of the year when not a single cherry was available to buy for any amount of love or money in London. My search was in vain. Instead, with some skilful stalk painting by Richard, we used the fake ones that had arrived the day before the shoot and surprised us all by being so convincing. Indeed, they were so realistic that people kept reaching out to eat them. Now that the image is out there and has a life of its own, I no longer view them as fake cherries. Instead, in the spirit of good theatre, they have embraced the role of real cherries and like all good actors will be staying in character throughout the production.

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 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.

Ferment Fortnight Preview | #oneplaything

Ferment Fortnight kicks off its biannual explosion of work-in-progress and scratch performances from 24 Jan. Here, Mufti Games Director Malcolm Hamilton discusses his upcoming performance #oneplaythingCatch it at the Loco Klub, Wed 31 Jan.

Malcolm Hamilton

Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m Malcolm, I’m a theatre maker who specialises in play. For the past few years I’ve been using known games-like hangman and rock paper scissors- to make shows or engage people in ideas. This last year I’ve been a Leverhulme Scholar with Ferment and I’ve been concentrating on play theories and thinking. I’ve been running play activities and been using play in other contexts, like heritage engagement and housing consultation.

What are you presenting at Ferment Fortnight?
It’s a talk, and experiment and a play session. There will be some performance and we’ll play together. We’ll use play to explore a story and we’ll look at some problems our society has with play. I’ll invite you to think about your own play, and give you something to take away too. It’s about giving value and celebrating tiny, everyday moments.


What inspired/influenced your piece?
Last year, I was invited to a meeting of playful people in Leeds. It was the first ‘on the road version’ of the Danish play festival ‘Counterplay’. As a result of some relatively light street interventions, some very big conversations happened. We all got very excited. It was the pinnacle of a year consciously exploring play and #oneplaything is a sharing of that year.

What does the work that Ferment do mean to you?
I’ve just been supported by Ferment for a year so it’s had a massive impact on me. My confidence has built, I’ve been able to explore new things and experiment with space to think. I’ve built some really strong new relationships and been able to focus my work enabling me to move forwards in a stronger, more disciplined way. I’ve been hanging about Ferment since the beginning and it’s been a great way to try out ideas and see great work in the early stages. There are some shows seen that have gone absolutely nowhere. And they’ve really stuck with me. Because as you watch, a tiny bit of that show, form or idea will help that artist develop, and if they hadn’t had a chance to work that out, they might still have one leg stuck behind a wall scratching their head, rather than dancing on the clifftops. And the good thing about dancing of the cliff tops in this context, is that we all get the chance to dance too.

What would you say the audience can expect in three words?

Ferment Fortnight takes place at Bristol Old Vic 24-25 Jan before moving across the city to Watershed and Loco Klu from 26 Jan-3 Feb.  For more info 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.

Ferment Fortnight Preview | In the Dark

Ferment Fortnight kicks off its biannual explosion of work-in-progress and scratch performances from 24 Jan. Here, Bristol based artist Hannah Sullivan discusses her upcoming one-on-one performance In the DarkCatch it in our theatre, Wed 24 Jan.

Hannah-Sullivan- In the Dark.jpgTell us a bit about yourself…
I am a Bristol based artist, I moved here after graduating from Dartington College of Arts in 2009. I have been making work in the city every since, included previous pieces shown with Ferment ‘Echo Beach’ and ‘With Force and Noise’. I am a member of Interval, an artist-led network of performance makers in Bristol based above St Nicholas Market.

What are you presenting at Ferment Fortnight?
I am presenting a small one-on-one performance I created for a dark basement whilst on residency in Taiwan in 2017. The performance was generated out of time spent exploring the dark hours, reading a brilliant dark text ‘in praise of shadows’ by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, and the experience of living with a very generous family who welcomed me into an unknown place without much shared language.

What inspired/influenced your piece?
I began thinking about the dark when I read an article by Jeanette Winterson called ‘Why I adore the night’ – read it here.

This text changed my perception of the dark months of the year, and instigated the beginning of wanted to make some performance work that presented the positive qualities of darkness.

What does the work that Ferment do mean to you?
I am sharing this piece at Ferment to find out whether it has a life outside of the context of the residency in which it was made. I am very keen to continue making work on the subject of darkness, and looking forward to learning whether this piece should be developed or whether it is the beginning of a series of small explorations. Ferment allows me to experiment with this very early stage work, this is something that Ferment has offered to several of my pieces. Being given the space to explore in this way is completely essential to discovering the potential of what the work I make can be.

What would you say the audience can expect in three words?
Dark, slow, sweet

Ferment Fortnight takes place at Bristol Old Vic 24-25 Jan before moving across the city to Watershed and Loco Klu from 26 Jan-3 Feb.  For more info and to book tickets, click here.