by Anton Chekhov
Venue: The House
The Cherry Orchard was Chekhov’s last play, first performed by The Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski, in January 1904, a few months before Chekhov’s death. The relationship between the two men was fraught and full of disagreement. Chekhov insisted his play was a comedy, ‘at times even a farce’, and he felt Stanislavski’s staging made it heavy and ponderous. For his part, Stanislavski was beginning to develop the approaches to staging and acting that most practititioners now see as the cornerstones of modern theatre technique. Their relationship was in many ways the prototype of the director/playwright conflict that has resurfaced many times during the 20th Century, a conflict in which the playwright essentially wants a space in which his or her play can be heard without interference, whereas the director sees the play as being one element in an ensemble of means by which a live theatre event can be created, an event which is not reducible to the script.
The Cherry Orchard Project, taking place in a house, rather than a theatre, and using material from within and without Chekhov’s text, would of course have been unimaginable for either of them and has been the result of numerous developments in avant garde theatre during the hundred years since The Cherry Orchard’s first performance.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind Stanislavski’s remark about another of Chekhov’s plays, Three Sisters. He remarked that to see Three Sisters on stage should be like visiting the Prozorov’s house. It may be that modern avant-garde approaches to theatre are able to get much closer to an ideal that Stanislavski, confined, as everybody was then, to large auditoria and proscenium arch stages, could only dream of.