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And the Spring Begins

“A real masterpiece, a classic, always resonates with audiences, whatever the times,” says director Lin Zhaohua, as he discusses his latest production, Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Lin is one of the most influential drama directors in China today, renowned for his bold adaptations of classic works.


Chekhov wrote his last play at the beginning of the 20th century, at a time of rapid change in Russia, as the old aristocratic way of life was challenged by the rising industrial middle-class. The drama focuses on Madame Ranevskaya, whose lands (including a beautiful cherry orchard) are threatened by development, but she is unable to bring herself to act to save them. Instead, she whiles her time away with her family, reminiscing about the old days and declining all offers of help. And so the estate is sold and the cherry orchard is chopped down. The play, however, appears ambiguous – it neither extols the progressives nor fiercely criticizes the aristocracy. Instead it contemplates how social change affects real people. And it is this that makes The Cherry Orchard timeless. It is impossible for those experiencing the momentous change in China today not to feel an affinity with the characters in the drama, especially as brought to life in Lin Zhaohua’s production. “What is seen on the stage is what I want to say,” he says.

Since Konstantin Stanislavski directed the premiere back in 1904, a host of major directors have turned their hand to the play, including Jean-Louis Barrault and Giorgio Strehler, but each has wrestled to decide whether the play is a comedy as Chekhov himself asserted, or is in fact a tragedy. Lin’s interpretation firmly accords with the playwright’s. “It is a comedy, but I’m not sure I have made it funny enough because of my own confusion about the play,” he says. “In my mind, there is no clear judgment about who is wrong and who is right. I love every character in this drama, but I hate them as well. I want to leave it to the audience to judge.”

Lin believes Chekhov wrote his masterpiece by taking a bird’s eye view of the world; in his production, therefore, he attempts to give the audience the same sensation by situating all the seats above stage level, where they can look down on the actors.

Amongst these actors is Jiang Wenli, who will take the lead as the tragic-comic Madame Ranevskaya. Renowned for her performance in And the Spring Comes, which earned her a Best Actress award at the 2007 Rome Film Festival, Jiang returns to the stage here for the first time since 2004. After making her name in film and television, her appearance is eagerly anticipated.

Originally Published in May issue of thebeijinger, 2009

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