The Cherry Orchard – Week 4

With preparations for previews well under way, The Cherry Orchard’s Assistant Director Evan Lordan takes us through what we can expect from Acts 3 and 4 in Chekhov’s final masterpiece. 


©elliekurttz-CherryOrchardREH-217Act 3 gets wilder each time we look at it; after ‘nothing’ happening twice in Acts 1 and 2 (Seinfeld fans will be pleased!), Act 3 is a proper roller coaster. You can expect live music, waltzing, magic tricks, unexpected entrances, unanticipated disappearances, fights, reconciliations, cruelty, kindness and plot twists! All this despite the fact that, as per usual, Chekhov has decided to place the main dramatic action off-stage and so the rollercoaster that we witness is an emotional and psychological one. Chekhov is so good at creating the backdrop and circumstances that all at once he can mirror one character’s emotional and mental state and totally undercut another’s. “It wasn’t the time to invite musicians. It wasn’t the time for a ball…” says Ranyevskaya. Quite, but that is why it is just so perfect; he is always playful, he is always devastating.

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By the time we get to Act 4, it really should all be worked out, but that would be far too easy. While this Act gives the majority of characters a sort of closure (for better or worse), for one couple there is one of the most awkward and awful ‘proposal’ scenes in the history of theatre. You’ll not be able to look away, but you’ll want to. You might even laugh, but probably only to stop you from crying.

Today we’re going back for another sweep of Act 1, bringing with us everything we’ve learned from the other three Acts. Now these characters have got real meat on their bones. It’s amazing to see this cast hitting their stride; where interactions ‘worked’ during previous runs, now sparks fly! In some places that’s right and not so much in others, but the texture and complexity of the text is really coming to life in the rehearsal room.

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The actors are going through a process, but so too is Director Michael Boyd. The marks being hit during initial rehearsals that seemed satisfactory before are now nowhere near our new ambitions. His understanding of the play is being shaped by the actors’ and characters’ development each day. We have been blessed with a six-week rehearsal process, but we will need every minute of it… this show will continue to shift and change in that time, and throughout the run too. This is what will keep the show alive. Just when the actors think they have it all figured out, The Cherry Orchard will throw  something new at them. It will give them reason to reconsider everything that they thought they knew about it. These revelations will in turn shift the lines for their colleagues, creating a chain reaction. It’s set to be one hell of an evening’s live and alive entertainment.


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 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.

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.


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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.

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.


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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.