Chekhov according to Max Stafford-Clark
WHAT ARE THE “NEW FORMS” CHEKHOV LOOKED FOR IN THEATRE?
His most important contribution was that he wrote about a group of people as opposed to single protagonists, like Romeo and Juliet. He democratized theatre by writing about a group of people. Fiers in The Cherry Orchard or Sorin in The Seagull are just as important as Andrei in Three Sisters.
WHAT FORMS DOES THEATRE HAVE TODAY? WHAT CHARACTERIZES CONTEMPORARY THEATRE?
There has been a great deal of emphasis on “physical theatre” recently. In England, the important thing about theatre is that it is a part of the social and political debate, and regarding the kind of lives we have. So, for example, I’m doing a play on the National Health Service, and the theatre is part of the political debate, and that’s more important than any forms, I think.
WHERE DOES THE STRENGTH OF CHEKHOV’S THEATRE LIE AND WHY IS IT STILL SO MODERN?
He was interested in a group of people and wrote so that that each character had a story. He wrote in a four-act form and each act takes a single character further forward. That, at the time, was revolutionary. The Seagull was the first of his great comedies, and is closer to a melodrama than any of his other plays. Konstantin kills himself at the very end. It has melodramatic elements in it, but Chekhov’s achievement is that he broke away from melodrama and set a pattern for future writers that is still followed today.
WHY DID YOU ASK THOMAS KILROY TO ADAPT THE SEAGULL TO AN IRISH SETTING?
Ireland and Russia have many things in common. Both are rural societies. At that point in the late nineteenth century, there were aristocracy and peasants classes, and no middle class. Turgenev said: «I could never have written about the Russian peasantry as I did had I not read Maria Edgeworth», who is a nineteenth century Anglo – Irish writer. And both countries went through violence, social convulsions in the mid – nineteenth century – Russia’s emancipation of the serves and Ireland’s famine. And both, of course, went through violent revolutionary movements in the early twenties, which changed the political destiny of their respective countries forever.