by Pavel Pryazhko
Who knew apples were such a hot topic? Researching the Belarus apple industry for this review with that well-known expert, Google ;), Belarus appears a relatively small apple producer but used as a transit country for major political shenanigans in a refrigerated apple cold war ... .
Does this have an impact on this Belarusian black comedy transferred from The Theatre Royal Bath? Maybe. But while an interesting hook in reality, an audience for The Harvest doesn't necessarily have to know about this.
An effective white box, designed by Madeleine Girling and Tom Piper, serves as backdrop for regimented grafted green unblemished apples hanging down from roof railings on strings of various lengths.
Four young people compete to pick Reinette apples from the tree on a clear winter's day (lighting: Charles Balfour). According to Google, Reinette is an 18th century French variety first described by Edward Bunyard in the year of the American Revolution.
And winter? Apparently, according to the script, they ripen off the bough before they are supposed to be brought to market as perfect specimens packed in the wooden crates provided.
Provided by whom? We never get to know.
There is no gangmaster, no supervisor, no apparent orchard owner as the four descend into at first comic and then increasingly darker desperate strategies.
A bee sting disrupts the ideal harvest day for the two males and their tantalising female companions, Ira (Beth Park) and Lyuba (Lindsey Campbell) and from then on, it’s all downhill.
Valerii (Dyfan Dwyfor) in the best-written role, clad in sports gear, is sometimes able to furnish a hammer to knock “new nails in old holes”. Nevertheless sometimes he’s as incompetent and self-harming as his chunky bee-stung mate Egor (Dafydd Llyr Thomas) and eventually roams the stage maniacally thinking up new schemes, peering indistinctly from behind the fourth wall.
The apples themselves turn into vulnerable beings, bruised, tossed, pulled and pushed in and out of collapsing crates. Meanwhile the four human beings spiral into mayhem with the crop ultimately crushed in the prevailing anarchy. This is a production which must use up a considerable quota of apples every night!
Does the orchard represent a state enterprise? At this very moment state enterprises in Belarus are being privatised (“it is the work collective that has to decide whether or not privatization will take place”, according to a real-life news story quote of the President).]
Or could it equally, from our world, be a corporate, with the state hidden? Certainly local and national government and insurance company health and safety inspectorates never appear in the ensuing bloody orchard chaos.
As one character says, “Well, it could happen to absolutely anyone”.
And the result? The four youngsters, physically and psychologically maimed ultimately turn from productive apple-picking citizens into aimless patients in a pharmaceutical stupor. The once idyllic landscape goes into freefall, breaking up like the crates and then freezing over.
This 2011 play is given a sprightly poetic translation by Sasha Dugdale, energetically directed by former RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd and performed with humour and vigour by the actors.
Jaunty recurring old-fashioned music (sound: Andrea J Cox – no pun intended!) gives a possible clue to a gallop through history. It’s short enough at 70 minutes without an interval to hold the attention.
Yet the production also feels – a little grafted, put together. Too broad and repetitive for the fragile seesaw between artificiality, farce, vulnerability, danger and tragedy, as delicate as the easily-damaged apples hung by slender string.
Collectively, TLT and her juicy jalopy did wonder whether film, with its naturalistic setting yet descending into surreal moments, might be a fitting medium for this piece? So not quite an apple green light but a golden delicious amber.