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The Cherry Orchard: 5 Fascinating Facts

The second show of our 2021 Summer/Autumn Season is Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Read on to find out more about this theatrical masterpiece from the turn of the 20th Century…

1) The Cherry Orchard was the final play written by Anton Chekhov

The play was written between 1901 and 1903, at a time when Chekhov’s physical health was suffering due to the tuberculosis he had suffered with since he was a child. In addition to this, he was also having difficulties with his mental health and often found that he could only write one or two lines day.

At the time he wrote:

“I am beginning to lose heart. It seems to me that I have outlived my time as a writer, and that every sentence I write seems to serve no purpose”.

He managed to finish the play in October 1903, when he sent it to the Moscow Art Theatre, which had previously staged his plays Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Seagull. The show was first performed in January 1904, just 6 months before he passed away.

 

 

2) Chekhov was extremely secretive about the play during its writing process

During much of the writing process of The Cherry Orchard, none of the people closest to him knew anything about the play. Even by the summer of 1902, Chekhov had not shared any details about the play with his loved ones – this was in part due to his guarded nature, and also due to him spending large amounts of time in exile from his wife and friends on the Mediterranean island of Yalta under instruction from his doctor, in order to protect his physical health.

Eventually he shared the title of the play to his wife, which he reportedly whispered to her despite the fact there was no-one else in the room with them.

 

 

3) Chekhov intended the play to be a comedy, but its first director interpreted it as a tragedy

The original Moscow Art Theatre production of The Cherry Orchard was directed by Konstantin Stanislavski – who famously, against Chekhov’s wishes, interpreted the play as a tragedy. Chekhov was greatly displeased with Stanislavski’s interpretation, stating that he had “ruined” his play. Chekhov himself had described the play as a comedy with some elements of farce – the full original title of the play was ‘The Cherry Orchard: A Comedy in Four Acts’. Chekhov’s wife however seemed to disagree with her husband’s classification of the genre:

“by the fourth act I burst out sobbing”.

The genre of the script has since been debated by numerous directors and critics, with the genre of productions varying depending on which parts of the script the directors chooses to emphasise. There are certainly elements of both comedy and tragedy in the script, meaning that it doesn’t neatly fit into a standard genre. The dualities of the play are perhaps part of its longstanding appeal!

 

 

4) One of the main themes of the play is social change

The play was written at a time when Russian society was evolving at rapid pace, with the emancipation of the serfs taking place forty years prior. This allowed former serfs to gain the full rights available to free citizens, such as the right to own a property, start a business or get married. The emancipation meant that former serfs were able to build their wealth and status, whilst some of the upper classes were finding themselves unable to maintain their estates without the labour that the serfs previously were expected to provide them.

These effects on Russian society are reflected in the play – the formerly wealthy Ranyevskya’s frequent allusions to the past and failure to face her estate’s problems head-on could be seen as symbolic of those who were resistant to adapting along with the changes occuring in their country. The character of Trofimov meanwhile is highly critical of Russia’s intellectuals due what he perceives as their failure to help the impoverished citizens of the country. Trofimov sees Russia’s past as something to be left behind – the views and attitude of his character directly contrast with those of Ranevskya.

 

 

5) Chekhov likely took influence from some of his own life experiences when writing the script

When Chekhov was 16, his mother went into debt after being swindled by builders that were hired under her instruction to construct a house. She was offered financial help by a former lodger, who secretly bought himself the house. Whilst this was occuring, Chekhov’s childhood home was sold off to pay the mortgage. These events were obviously hugely influential to the main plot points of The Cherry Orchard.

In his later years, Chekhov became developed a passion for gardening and even planted his own cherry orchard. After his relocation to Yalta, he was devastated to discover that the buyer of his former estate had cut down a large area of the orchard. During his childhood he spent holidays at the farm of some friends of the family, where a locally famous cherry orchard stood, and an early short story by Chekhov entitled Steppe describes a young boy travelling across Ukraine through fields of cherry blossoms. Chekhov’s garden in Yalta survives to this day, as a tribute to the man whose passion for nature matched his passion for theatre.

“I think that if I wasn’t a writer, I could be a gardener” – Anton Chekhov

 

This August our talented Summer/Autumn Season company will commence rehearsals for The Cherry Orchard. They’ll have a busy schedule as they’ll be rehearsing The Cherry Orchard during the day, and performing Hamlet in the evenings!

Tickets are on sale now for Anton Chekhov’s theatrical masterpiece which will run from Fri 1 Oct – Sat 13 Nov. Click the link below to book your tickets!

The Cherry Orchard

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