Chekhov on the British stage : reactions to a theatrical tradition
This dissertation examines a theoretical tradition, establishing the dominant reading of Chekhov in Britain and analysing attempts that have been made to challenge that reading. In so doing it focusses on selected significant performances of the major plays rather than providing an exhaustive survey of all British productions in the last thirty years. The interventions that have been made in the staging of Chekhov illuminate aspects of British theatrical practice, most notably the function of the text, the position of the classic play in the repertoire, strategies with translation, and modes of acting, direction and design. The dissertation begins with an examination of the place of the text in the theatrical discourse, considering the status of the author and the role of the reader, in this instance particularly the director, the designer and the actor. Because another crucial involved in the production of a foreign text is the translator, Chapter Two discussed the task of translation in general, including linguistic and broader cultural considerations in seeking 'equivalence' and the problem of 'performability'. These issues are explored with reference to different strategies that have been adopted in recent British productions of a variety of foreign texts as a prologue to discussing the approaches taken in English translations of Chekhov's plays. Chapter Three establishes the tradition of Chekhov on the British Stage from the first production in 1909 to the 1950s. It analyses the formulation of the orthodox reading of the plays in the 1920s and 1930s by Komisarjevsky, Saint-Denis and Gielgud, and discusses the theatrical establishment's adoption of Chekhov which consolidated the plays' status in the repertoire. The rest of the dissertation is concerned with reactions to that tradition, beginning with visit by the Moscow Art Theatre to London in 1958 and the subsequent responses of the British 'Establishment': Saint-Denis, Olivier and Gielgud. Chapter Five considers Chekhov and the Royal Court, examining the plays' role in the theatre's repertoire and the attempts made to subvert their traditional interpretation and the conventions of their performance. The next three chapters analyse transpositions of the plays to Ireland; the attempt to exploit the radical potential of Chekhov in Trevor Griffiths's version of The Cherry Orchard; and the fundamental reappraisal of the conventions of the plays' performance in Mike Alfred's productions (1981-6). The dissertation concludes by examining the reassertion of the traditional modes of staging Chekhov exemplified by the productions of Michael Frayn's translations in the 1980s.