This tart Belarussian apple picking comedy ripens nicely
People are a lot like apples. They ripen slowly, bruise easily and it only takes one bad one to turn everything to rot.
‘The Harvest’ is a tart little comedy by Belarusian playwright Pavel Pryazhko. It’s deceptively slight – we watch four teenage fruit-pickers at work in an orchard – but an hour later, it ends with a grand turnover. Pryazhko takes a pop at shoddy employment practice that puts economy before environment.
To start, however, it’s a gentle mockery of teenage sexuality. The pickers flirt while they work. The boys – know-it-all Valerii (Dyfan Dwyfor) and clumsy Egor (Dafydd Llyr Thomas) – battle for alpha-male status, loading up huge armfuls of fruit and, when a crate breaks, demonstrating mad DIY skillz. The two girls are right to laugh. Nails miss their targets. Hammers hit thumbs. Apples, in turn, go everywhere: smashed and stamped to smithereens.
With rotten crates and rottener rates, however, frustration inevitably mounts. As the orchard’s owner cuts corners, so his employees seek shortcuts – cheating the system, shaking the trees, and ultimately destroying the orchard.
It’s a big old allegory, undoubtedly stewed, but you don’t see it sneaking up on you, thanks to four engaging characters, all fickle, flawed and likeable, and an enjoyable air of mayhem. Madeleine Girling’s deconstructed orchard, its apples suspended on strings, falls apart with aplomb.
Sasha Dugdale’s translation can be clipped and ungainly, likely in keeping with the play’s shape and style, but ex-RSC boss Michael Boyd draws out winning performances from his young cast. They balance youth’s carefree nature with its carelessness. Dwyfor is as pinched and self-certain as Thomas is squidgy and infuriating. Lindsey Campbell floats prettily, blinking at the boys, while Beth Park is cooler and cannier. Most of all, they work together beautifully: an ensemble of individuals. How do you like them apples? (They’re alright, thanks.)