Monday, June 06, 2011

My version of THE CHERRY ORCHARD to open this Festival Fringe

I realise I’ve fallen in love. With Chekhov. I used to loathe him. All those well-bred Englishmen being languid in white linen. It enraged me.

He felt like a roadblock in the way of new work. And by new work I meant my own. I’d have been happy to ban him.

For some reason the one I loathed the most was "The Cherry Orchard". Those stupid stupid people. I walked out of a highly praised German production in the Festival once. It struck me as so self-indulgent as to be grotesque.

But I’ve just done a new version of it and I understand.

(I used to hate “Versions” too. What I mean is I’ve got to know the play through two or three translations, connected with the characters, lived their lives, and listened to their words)

Theatre is such a messy business one can’t really talk of perfection but in its dialogue (not a word out of place), in its construction (every element tightly hanging together) and in its ruthless compassion (which makes you laugh and cry at the same time) this amazing play gets closer to it than almost any other I’ve ever known.

When Chekhov wrote it he must have known that the feudal society in which he lived was utterly inadequate to the industrial world. That Russia was about to undergo cataclysmic change: and the urgency of this is present in every line.

There has to be a generalised sense of this in us, also, though we are utterly unwilling to recognise it, and this must be one reason why Chekhov speaks so strongly to us.

I know it is why he speaks so strongly to me; and why I have been connecting so passionately with the script.

The Company I’m writing for, Theatre Alba, are outsiders in every sense of the world. They’ve been putting on shows in th garden of Duddingston village manse for years and years.

I saw one of their first shows way back in 1981, soon after I started writing theatre reviews for The Scotsman. It was an intensely beautiful play called "The Shepherd Beguiled" (written by a forgotten playwright called Netta Blair Reid) and they performed with profoundly moving conviction in a disused cinema in Abbeyhill. It was one of the very best things I have ever seen and I remember walking home, high above the city, in a state of the profoundest joy.

The Company is still led by its founder/director, a charismatic and deeply gifted loner called Charles Nowoskielski, who has gathered around him a group of skilled and devoted actors, some of whom have worked with him since the company began.

They rehearse and perform out of doors in the same beautiful spot just beside Duddingston Loch and it’s this continuity and love for the work which gives it an extraordinary and deeply rooted kind of authority.

Last year I did a version of "The Seagull" for them. The setting was perfect, the acting superb, and the production achieved a profound level of beauty.

I felt intensely frustrated because half way through the run I discovered that somehow no-one in the Company had got round to telling the press... But hopefully this time around that will change.

Meantime I tell myself now, as I have to tell myself over and over again, that my job here is simply to write, and write as best I can. What people make of it is their business, and in the end not mine.

What counts for me is the opportunity to work with a writer as skilled and as wonderful as Chekhov. Who teaches me so much and gives me so much joy.

(THE CHERRY ORCHARD opens on August 10th and runs till August 28th at Duddingston Kirk Manse Gardens. www.thetarealba.com)

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