A performance by in situ:, based on, in and around the text of The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov. First performed in March 2006, this revival marks the beginning of in situ:’s Tenth Birthday celebrations.
One of the most famous and acclaimed plays of all time, The Cherry Orchard was Anton Chekhov’s last play, first performed by The Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski, in January 1904, shortly before Chekhov’s death.
It describes the collapse of an aristocratic family, whose way of life is destroyed by forces they don’t understand and are powerless to resist – forces of social and political change that would soon sweep away the old order in its entirety.
in situ: applies its unique approach to Chekhov ‘s masterpiece. The Cherry Orchard takes place in The House, the action happening simultaneously in different rooms, corridors, landings and other spaces. The idea is that the audience moves around The House following whatever parts of the action they wish and piecing together their own unique experience of the work out of these encounters. The different acts take place in different spaces: on an impossibly cramped sofa, on a bed, on the stairs. Meanwhile, elsewhere, the characters are chatting, playing cards, drinking, singing, re-enacting the turning points in their lives and weeping over lost happiness.
The combination of Chekhov, the playwright, and Stanislavski, the pioneering director and creator of the first truly modern school of acting, who directed the original production, make it a play of unique importance in the history of theatre. It was his encounter with Chekhov’s plays that gave Stanislavski the conviction that a new type of actor was called for and this eventually gave birth to the famous “System”.
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 practitioners 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.