Programming Note: Bridget Mackey is my first guest blogger. She wrote this stunning response to The Cherry Orchard and I decided that I wanted in on that. Bridget is a playwright, theatre-maker and owner of an outstanding fringe based in Melbourne. She would also like it noted that ‘A’ consented to his views being published during a phone conversation an hour after the Grand Final. ‘A’ cannot remember this conversation at all. Fleur.
‘Instead of going to see plays, you should take a good look at yourself. Just think what a drab life you lead, what a lot of nonsense you talk!’ – Lyubov Andreyevna Ranevsky (Act 2, The Cherry Orchard)
I. – Falling in Love:
Simon Stone’s adaptation of ‘The Cherry Orchard’ by Anton Chekhov takes place in a white space. I’m watching this white space and it’s the whiteness that fills the absence of memory; or the reflected glow of an orchard in full bloom; or the white-wash walls of a nursery filled with objects from a much happier past. People enter the space. Characters in a play walk on to a stage. I listen to the characters on stage. I observe the way their actions contradict the way they speak about themselves. Chekhov’s characters perform as much for each other as they do for the audience and as they speak to each other (and they speak a lot) I fall in love with each and every one of them. I fall in love with them in the way that I am in love with my family and friends. I love them because of, not despite, their idiosyncrasies and imperfections.
II. – The Test:
Setting: Night. Melbourne. A train station. Bridget & A wait for a train.
Bridget: If Chekhov had been a painter which painter do you think he’d be like?
A: Yeah. Because he shows human life from ugly and intimate angles.
(Devotion: the Two Girlfriends, Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, 1895)
Bridget: But Toulouse-Lautrec makes people look really ugly. Chekhov doesn’t do that.
(The Hangover: Portrait of Suzanne Valadon, Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, 1888)
A: Chekhov makes people look ugly.
Bridget: But you see everything in so much detail. And you see this detail in the context of the character’s entire lives. Chekhov presents his characters so evenly. It has a calming effect. I think Chekhov is like Seurat.
(The Gardener, Georges Seurat, 1884)
A: Like a pointillists? A pointillist removes the viewer too much to be Chekhov.
(A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884)
Bridget: Maybe. (Pause)
(Morning, interior, Maximilien Luce, 1890)
Bridget: But I feel like my brain has been stretched out, like I’ve been looking at the horizon. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. (Pause) Did you think that Simon Stone’s version was a bit like The Castle?
A: The movie? No.
Bridget: I got over it but when the play started I kept thinking of this phrase ‘The Bogan Chekhovian.’ I got over it.
A: Thank God.
Bridget: And allowing the characters, or the actors, or whoever, to speak with their natural speech pattern gave an immediacy to the language which helps a contemporary audience connect with the play.
A: It was cool the way the audience was the orchard.
Bridget: Yeah, I loved that.
III. – A drunken rant on the Epping Line.
Setting: A train.
Drunk Woman: I vote liberal! People who want to be rich should vote liberal! I’m rich, I’m proud to be wealthy. Come on, tell me I’m drunk, tell me I’m out of my mind, say I’m imagining all this. Don’t laugh at me. (Pause) Being poor is a choice. Don’t you think? Don’t you think being poor is a choice. (Pause) Don’t laugh at me. If only my dad and grandfather could come back from the dead and see everything that’s happened to me. Everything that I’ve done. They came to this country with nothing. If they could see how their much bullied, half literate daughter, the girl who used to run around with bare feet in winter, if they could see that I own a house now. I own a house now. Sometimes I think it’s all a dream.
IV. – Afterwards.
Setting: Beneath an umbrella.
Bridget: Do you think she was an acting student?
A: I don’t think so.
Bridget: But she was quoting almost directly from the play. Wasn’t she?
A: I know.
Bridget: I couldn’t engage with her properly, I should have engaged with her more, I should have had a conversation, but the Chekhov did something to my brain. I just wanted to listen to her. I feel like I could have listened to her forever.
A: Me too.