The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

Chekhov's plays have always been a mainstay of repertory theatre. Acknowledged as masterpieces, they are easy to sell to an audience, and yet notoriously difficult to perform. The plays seem to be about inaction, inertia and mood more than action and plot development. Although the words can be translated from Russian, there is another 'translation' required by the actors and director to come to an understanding of the Russian personality, and why Chekhov's characters behave as they do.

The Cherry Orchard, first performed at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1904 directed by Konstantin Stanislavsky, has only one real piece of plot 'action' - the peasant Lopakhin buys the decaying country estate from wealthy landowner Madame Ranyevskaya - and that happens offstage in the last act. The play is essentially made up of day to day interactions, or 'missed opportunities', for example the scene where Lopakhin fails to make the expected proposal of marriage to Ranyevskaya's adopted daughter Varya.

In this photograph from the 1960 Birmingham Repertory production, Marigold Sharman as governess Charlotta amuses the party guests, including Ranyevskaya (Elizabeth Spriggs, seated right) with some magic tricks.